Attorney General William Barr sold America a bill of goods when he bypassed the mountain of damning evidence amassed by special counsel Robert Mueller to give Donald Trump a get-out-of-jail-free card. But as multiple polls in the past couple of weeks showed, nearly 60 percent of America wasn’t buying the load of crap Barr was selling—and that was before Mueller’s redacted report dropped on Thursday.
What Barr’s fabrication did accomplish, at least momentarily, was to give Democrats some pause about the pragmatism of continuing to investigate Trump and his many misdeeds. Many pundits touted a Monmouth University poll this week showing that 54 percent of voters think Congress should move on to other issues (even though fully 60 percent wanted Congress to see the full report). But that Monmouth poll might actually be an outlier. An AP-NORC poll found exactly the opposite—53 percent want Congress to continue investigating Trump’s ties with Russia, while 58 percent believe Trump tried to obstruct justice.
But again, that was all before America finally got a detailed portrait of the mob ring Trump is running from inside the Oval Office. And what’s important to remember is that every credible poll released in the last several weeks shows no real change in voters’ perceptions of Trump and his behavior. Majorities and pluralities consistently believe Trump engaged in corrupt behavior, whether or not it rose to the level of criminality. On top of that, despite Trump’s weeks-long exoneration tour, he got no bump in approvals whatsoever—still hovering just above 40 percent.
Perhaps the most telling poll released this week came from Navigator Research Friday, showing that Americans find “obstruction” to be a more compelling narrative than “collusion.”
In a split sample experiment, Americans were more likely to support continued investigation related to obstruction (by 50% to 40%, 49% to 33% among independents) than coordination with the Russians (45% to 43%; 32% to 48% among independents).
Independents, in particular, are much more moved by obstruction. But that’s just a baseline for now, given that Mueller’s redacted report was just released and that the obstruction piece of the report gave the most robust/least redacted portrayal of Trump’s corruption.
The other very interesting finding by Navigator is that the last several months have seen public opinion shift from people being more concerned about congressional overreach to them being more worried that Trump will get off scot-free. Now a majority is more concerned about Trump getting away with corrupt and unethical behavior (51 percent) versus being worried that Democrats will “go too far” in exercising their oversight powers (42 percent). The trend is even more pronounced among independents, who are more fearful that Trump won’t be held to account by double digits, 46 percent to 35 percent.
While there are likely multiple reasons for that shift in concern, one of the most prominent data points is the effect that Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony had on the public. Fully 35 percent of respondents told Civiqs last month that Cohen’s testimony “worsened” their view of the Trump administration. In other words, hearing people tell their stories live, without a media filter, in a congressional setting matters a heck of a lot.
That fact is critical as Democrats move forward with the momentum the redacted Mueller report has given them. One thing Mueller and his team made perfectly clear is that they believe Congress’ rightful function is to continue investigating Trump in order to make a determination about impeachment. And as much as Democratic leadership is loath to employ the I word, Democrats can effectively lay the groundwork for impeachment through a series of hearings without formally opening an impeachment inquiry. That appears to be exactly where Democrats are heading, according House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler.
“The idea is not to debate articles of impeachment,” Nadler told CNN, but to investigate “who did what” and “then decide what to do about it. … Then we’ll decide what route to go down.”
In that vein, no one has more political clout in regard to the Russia investigation than Robert Mueller, precisely because he has been so sparing in his public comments while clearly conducting a non-partisan, down-the-line investigation. While his view will be lost on some 35 percent of the population, at least 60 percent of Americans will be open to his testimony. Mueller’s explanations for why he reached his determinations could indeed set the stage for how imperative it is that Congress perform its constitutional oversight role here.
And yes, what follows could tip public opinion in favor of impeachment, to where Republicans voting against Trump’s removal in the Senate could be deemed by the public to be a greater betrayal than House Democrats impeaching. But even if Democrats ultimately stop short of impeachment hearings, exposing the totality of Trump’s corruption is imperative in the lead-up to 2020.