Trump’s attacks resonate with GOP
More Americans now seem skeptical of Mueller probe
WASHINGTON — One year into the Russia investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller works away, mostly silent. Yet President Donald Trump and his allies have been anything but, and they’ve had some success in undermining public confidence in the sprawling probe.
Though the investigation has reached deeper into his inner circle, Trump’s approval ratings lately have ticked slightly higher, despite remaining at historic lows for a president serving during a time of economic growth.
Also, more Americans seem skeptical of the investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible Trump campaign involvement, according to a CBS News poll conducted earlier this month. A slim majority of 53 percent said the case is politically motivated, up from 48 percent in December.
That shift in sentiment mainly owes to growing skepticism among Republicans, reflecting their receptivity to Trump’s repeated attacks on what he calls the Mueller “witch hunt” that are regularly echoed by conservative media.
“There is no question that the continued barrage from the White House, and the depiction of it as a witch hunt, is beginning to resonate among Republicans,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. “They want it over with because that will allow the president to get back to his agenda.”
Trump has taken an unprecedented lead role in combating the Russia investigation, even at the risk of appearing to obstruct it. He began criticizing the special counsel by name in March, tweeting that “the Mueller probe should never have been started.” The fusillade continued on Thursday as Trump marked the anniversary of Mueller’s appointment.
“Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History,” he tweeted.
The president also lent credence Thursday to reports that FBI informants had infiltrated his presidential campaign.
“Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT,’ ” Trump tweeted Thursday. “Andrew McCarthy says, ‘There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.’ If so, this is bigger than Watergate!”
McCarthy, a contributing editor at the National Review, wrote an article published last week headlined “Did the FBI Have a Spy in the Trump Campaign?”
The New York Times reported separately this week that at least one government informant met several times with Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, both former foreign policy advisers on Trump’s campaign.
To amplify his attacks, Trump recently added to his legal team former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has since made unrealized boasts about getting the special counsel to close the case within weeks.
“We’re going to have to look into whether we can challenge the legitimacy of the entire investigation,” Giuliani told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday.
Democrats and some legal experts have accused the president of a scorchedearth attack on the rule of law because Trump and his party fear what Mueller will uncover.
“What we’ve seen from the president and some of his allies makes you worry about the future of this democracy,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor on Thursday.
Yet the attacks apparently have caused more Republicans to oppose the probe.
While 53 percent of Republicans in the CBS News poll said Trump should cooperate and be interviewed, that was down from 73 percent in January. Twothirds of Republicans said Congress should try to end the investigation.
Trump’s overall approval ratings have improved, though they remain underwater. Fifty-two percent of Americans disapproved of his job performance while 43 percent approved, according to an average this week of recent polls by Real Clear Politics.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference and a close White House ally, cited as evidence of Mueller’s overreach the separate investigation into Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, whose home, office and hotel room was searched by the FBI last month. Shortly before the election, Cohen paid $130,000 in hush money to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
“They’re trying to find out if Donald Trump ever lived a playboy lifestyle,” Schlapp said. “I could simply give them a couple newspaper articles and we could get this all solved in 10 minutes.”
Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has become a frequent target of the president, who calls the probe a “witch hunt.”