Public Opinion Of The Mueller Investigation Has Become More Partisan

It’s rare for Americans to agree on anything these days, particularly when it comes to a politically charged issue like special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But a CNN poll released last Thursday found that a whopping 87 percent of Americans (including 92 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans) believe that once the Mueller investigation ends, there should be a full public report on the findings, whatever they may be.

There is no guarantee that the findings of the investigation will ever be made public, and in the meantime, Mueller has remained famously silent about what he’s found. But even the dribbles of information that have come out through court filings have slowly driven Democrats and Republicans further apart. As you can see in the chart below, which tracks polls of Mueller’s favorability over the past two years,1 there has been a small increase in how favorably Americans overall view Robert Mueller (the purple line),2 but when you break it down by party, it’s clear that opinions about the special counsel have become more polarized.

Americans can’t even agree on what the investigation has shown so far. According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll published on Tuesday, people are roughly split on whether the investigation has proven that Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 presidential election (it has charged a number of Russians with interference) and about whether people affiliated with President Trump’s 2016 campaign lied about contacts with Russians (several people who worked for the campaign have pleaded guilty to lying about Russian connections).

Since Mueller himself has not been forthcoming, the media and commentators have filled the informational void with prognostications about what is happening and what the investigation might reveal, but this has often sowed confusion. The special counsel’s silence has also given Trump an opportunity to repeatedly claim that the investigation is a politically motivated “witch hunt,” a phrase he has used many times since the investigation first began. During his recent State of the Union address, Trump even warned Democrats against what he called “ridiculous partisan investigations,” which appeared to be a dig at both the Mueller probe and the House Democrats’ investigations of his personal finances.

And it seems that Trump’s strategy is working. Over time, more and more Republicans have come to agree with Trump that the Mueller investigation is unfair.3 But the results of the investigation itself may still change people’s minds. In late 2018, for example, amid a spate of indictments, the percentage of Republicans who thought the investigation was fair ticked up a bit.

In July 2018, Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign. In September, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy as part of a deal to escape an array of other charges, including money laundering and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. And in November, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his work on a Trump Tower project in Moscow after he had already pleaded guilty to bank fraud and campaign finance violations in August.

If Mueller’s report finds that Trump directed his campaign staff to coordinate with the Russian government, 61 percent of Americans, including 29 percent of Republicans, said they would support Congress’s efforts to impeach the president, according to the Washington Post-Schar School poll. But the Senate Intelligence Committee has said it didn’t uncover direct evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia during the 2016 election, so unless there’s a real bombshell in whatever report comes out of the special counsel’s office, the end of the investigation may not bring sweeping changes of opinion. Instead, we may just see the public dig in their heels and retreat to their partisan corners.

Derek Shan contributed to the data collection process for this story.

What The Roger Stone Indictment Does (And Doesn’t) Tell Us

Roger Stone’s indictment wasn’t a surprise. On Friday morning, the Republican strategist and longtime adviser to President Trump was arrested by FBI agents and indicted in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Stone has been predicting for months that he would eventually be criminally implicated in Mueller’s investigation, and sure enough, he was charged with seven counts, including witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding, and making false statements.

The charges are related to Stone’s communications with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, when the organization released thousands of emails from Democratic officials that were allegedly hacked by Russian agents. According to the indictment, Trump campaign officials were interested in learning about WikiLeaks’ releases of the stolen information that might be damaging to Hillary Clinton and an unnamed senior campaign figure was even “directed” to reach out to Stone to ask about the timing of future releases and the nature of the information WikiLeaks had about Clinton.

The documents don’t spell out a clear connection between the Trump campaign and Russia. Stone left his official role with the campaign in August 2015 and was only serving as an informal adviser in the summer and fall of 2016, when he was allegedly in touch with WikiLeaks. But the latest development is significant because unlike previous indictments of people close to Trump, which were for charges like unrelated financial wrongdoing or making false statements about a real estate deal, Stone’s indictment is the first time Mueller has charged someone connected to Trump’s campaign with misconduct related to Russia’s election interference. The indictment also indicates that Mueller has evidence that Trump campaign officials were aware of the existence of the stolen emails before they were released.

Stone is the 34th person charged in Mueller’s probe.

On its face, the Stone indictment doesn’t include much information that wasn’t already in the public eye. Stone talked in public and in private about the leaks of the stolen Democratic emails throughout the 2016 campaign and claimed in August 2016 to have communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Previous reporting had also outlined how Stone promoted himself to the Trump campaign as a backchannel to WikiLeaks and revealed his attempts to intimidate Randy Credico, a radio talk show host and “Person 2” in the indictment.

Overall, though, Stone also hasn’t been charged with anything that actually occurred during the campaign, like conspiring with WikiLeaks. The wrongdoing outlined in the indictment revolves around various attempts by Stone to mislead congressional investigators in 2017 by making false statements about his communication with WikiLeaks and then bullying Credico into backing up his story.

The details do make for a much more colorful read than your typical court document: According to the indictment, Stone threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, and told Credico to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before HPSCI [the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] to avoid contradicting Stone’s testimony” — a reference to “The Godfather: Part II,” where a character lies in congressional testimony.

But the real unknown is how Stone’s alleged misconduct fits into the broader picture that Mueller has been painting through court documents for over a year. In his previously filed indictments, which have been quite detailed, Mueller has told the story of a complex campaign by the Russians to influence the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit, both through online influence campaigns and email hacking.

What’s still not clear is whether Trump campaign officials — or even the candidate himself — actively coordinated with Russia in these efforts. The Stone indictment doesn’t answer that question, which could mean a few things. It may be that Mueller’s team doesn’t have evidence to show that direct communication with WikiLeaks went any higher than Stone or that the Trump campaign was working with Russia in other ways. Or it could mean that Mueller is still filling in the story and that more answers are coming in future indictments.


Michael Cohen Is The 33rd Person Mueller Has Charged — And Could Be Among The Most Important

After a quiet period, there was a potential blockbuster development in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign this morning, when the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made a surprise appearance in a Manhattan courtroom to plead guilty to making false statements to Congress.

According to the formal charging document, Cohen lied about a Trump real-estate deal in Russia — specifically, the “Trump Tower Moscow” project. This doesn’t prove that members of Trump’s 2016 campaign coordinated with Russia. But according to the document, discussions of the Trump Tower Moscow project went on for longer than Cohen had previously indicated, and Trump was aware of the discussions. According to Cohen’s plea deal, he is cooperating with the special counsel investigation.

This brings the total number of people charged in Mueller’s investigation to 33.

In the document describing Cohen’s alleged conduct, Mueller’s team says that contrary to Cohen’s congressional testimony in 2017 that the deal to build Trump Tower Moscow had concluded early in 2016, negotiations around Trump Tower Moscow were still going as late as June 2016, when Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee.

Cohen also testified that he only spoke to Trump about the project on three occasions and didn’t brief the Trump family on it, that he never personally agreed to travel to Russia or considered a Russia trip for Trump in relation to the project, and that he didn’t recall any response from the Russian government to the project — all of which was challenged in the Mueller team’s charging document. According to the document, the “status and progress” of the project was discussed more than three times with then-candidate Trump and that Cohen also talked to family members about the project’s trajectory. It also says that Cohen did agree to go to Russia (although the trip never happened) and even considered a potential trip to Russia by Trump. And the document says that Cohen reached Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesperson to ask for help reviving the deal.

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn this morning, Trump repeatedly said that Cohen was lying in the hope of receiving a shorter prison sentence.

This is the first time that the Trump Tower Moscow project has been mentioned in a charge filed by Mueller’s team. The deal ultimately collapsed but has been scrutinized as a possible point of connection between Trump and high-level Russian operatives. According to some reports, Cohen has provided more than 70 hours of testimony to the special counsel, including about contacts between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, questions related to obstruction of justice by the president, and Trump’s previous business dealings in Russia.

Mueller hasn’t charged Cohen before, but this is the second time in three months that Cohen has appeared in a Manhattan courtroom to plead guilty to a federal crime. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges filed by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, including a violation of campaign finance laws that appeared to implicate Trump.

Now, Cohen’s cooperation could have big implications for the way Mueller’s investigation continues to unfold. Trump submitted written answers to questions from Mueller’s team last week; they reportedly included queries about the Trump Tower Moscow project. If Trump’s responses differ from Cohen’s testimony to Mueller, that could spell trouble for the president.