Trump’s at­tacks res­onate with GOP

More Amer­i­cans now seem skep­ti­cal of Mueller probe

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD / FROM PAGE ONE - By Chris Mege­rian and Noah Bier­man

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.”

ANDREW HARNIK/AP 2017

Robert Mueller’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion has be­come a fre­quent tar­get of the pres­i­dent, who calls the probe a “witch hunt.”

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