President Trump’s insistence that he has been exonerated by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign began hours after Attorney General William P. Barr released a letter outlining what Mueller found. Like most Americans, Trump has apparently not actually seen Mueller’s report, and what little has been made public doesn’t explicitly exonerate Trump on the question of obstruction of justice. But Trump is rarely one for nuance or moderation, so: He claims he has been exonerated. What a world.
The Washington Post and our polling partners at the Schar School of Policy and Government asked Americans last week whether they agreed with Trump’s assessment. Or, more specifically, we pointed out that Mueller said Trump wasn’t exonerated and that Trump said he was and asked which man respondents were more likely to believe.
Most Americans said they were more inclined to believe Mueller. Most Republicans, though, said they were more inclined to believe Trump.
Again, it’s very safe to assume that no one with whom our pollsters talked has actually read Mueller’s report. Many respondents were probably learning about the discrepancy between what Mueller said and what Trump said Mueller said in the wording of the poll question itself. And two-thirds of Republicans said that Trump’s summary of Mueller’s findings was more accurate than Mueller’s summary of Mueller’s findings.
Unsurprisingly, then, Republicans were also much less likely than other groups to think that Trump committed any serious wrongdoing in regard to “Russian interference in the 2016 election and the federal investigation that followed,” as the question wording put it. Respondents overall were mixed on whether serious wrongdoing had occurred, with most Democrats thinking Trump had committed a crime and more than three-quarters of Republicans thinking that no serious wrongdoing took place.
With most of the Mueller report still under wraps, it’s understandable that there would be some disagreement about its determinations. But our poll revealed something else remarkable about allegations that Trump’s campaign tried to collude with the Russian interference effort: Most Republicans don’t think there was an interference effort.
A bare majority of Republicans told our pollsters that they don’t think Russia even tried to interfere in the campaign.
Mind you, Russia’s efforts are one of the better documented allegations that Mueller and his team made. Since July, you could read a 29-page indictment outlining how Russian agents allegedly hacked into the Democratic Party’s network and into the email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. For more than a year, you could read a 37-page document explaining how a group of Russian workers tried to spread misinformation and dissent over social media. As far back as June 2016, The Post first reported that hackers linked to Russia had accessed the Democratic National Committee.
Although the allegations haven’t been proved in a court of law and although Russia’s government denies them, there’s little serious debate at this point that Russia was involved in those hacks and that social media push. No serious explanation for those acts has been offered beyond trying to muck up the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly waved away the idea that Russia wanted to intervene in the election on his behalf and the idea that Russia was necessarily involved in the hacking. For every time he has seemed to forcefully acknowledge Russia’s apparent role, he has cast doubt on the subject.
In other words, on this, too, we have a Trump-vs.-Mueller conflict. And Republicans again trust Trump’s version of the story.
In January, we asked respondents in another poll whether Trump was honest and trustworthy. Only about a third of respondents said he was — but 80 percent of Republicans held that position. Among Republicans, pitting Trump against Mueller isn’t a fair fight. Trump has said for months that Mueller is dishonest and biased; ergo, if you think Trump is honest, Mueller is less trustworthy than the president.
It again raises an important question: What if Mueller had demonstrated serious wrongdoing by Trump? What if the full report still does? Then what?
It’s an important question, but the answer seems obvious. If Republicans accept Trump’s argument about Russian interference despite the scads of evidence to the contrary, it seems likely that they’d accept his argument about alleged wrongdoing, too.