Some 52 percent of Americans want Congress to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his ongoing Russia investigation, according to a new CBS poll released Tuesday. But among Republican respondents, that number is significantly lower.
Only 23 percent of Republicans polled said they thought Congress should act to protect Mueller, who is investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, as well as possible obstruction by the president and his associates. By contrast, 75 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents said the same.
The poll also asked if Trump should allow the investigation to continue. Seventy-two percent said yes, including 81 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents, and a surprising 57 percent of Republicans.
The CBS poll, which also found Trump had a 39 percent approval rating, had a nationwide sample of 1,103 adults.
Those responses suggest that while Republicans believe Mueller should be allowed to continue his investigation, there is no threat to his work, despite Trump’s repeated comments about the probe being a partisan “witch-hunt.” Those who see no need to protect Mueller, however, may be relying on misplaced confidence.
Trump frequently refers to Mueller’s investigation as a sham, suggesting those working for the special counsel’s office are motivated by their hatred of him. Recently those threats have taken the form of more concrete administrative actions.
The day after the midterm elections, in which millions more people voted for a Democrat to represent them in Congress than a Republican, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions following a year and a half of public castigation over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Trump replaced him with Sessions’ former chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, who has called Mueller’s probe “a fishing expedition” and suggested ways in which the administration could undermine the investigation or shut it down completely.
Whitaker, as “acting” attorney general, now controls who is on Mueller’s team and whether he can make indictments.
Some in the GOP are less confident about Trump’s ambitions. In April, the Senate introduced the bipartisan Special Counsel Independence & Integrity Act, which would give Mueller 10 days to appeal any effort by Trump to dismiss the special counsel to a three-judge panel. It would also preserve all investigation documents during that period.
The bill combines Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)’s bill and a bipartisan bill authored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Earlier this year, we passed S.2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would safeguard Robert Mueller’s investigation. Leader McConnell should bring the bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) November 7, 2018
Last week, outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) tried to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked it, once again arguing that such legislation was unnecessary.
“There’s been no indication,” McConnell told reporters, “that Mueller investigation will not be allowed to finish and it should be allowed to finish. We know how the president feels about the Mueller investigation but he’s never said he wants to shut it down.”
In September, House Democrats tried to force a vote on similar legislation that would protect Mueller, but House Republicans, who still have a majority until the start of the next Congress in January, blocked it.
That same month, a CNN poll found that 50 percent of respondents approved of the way Mueller was conducting his investigation, which has yielded dozens of indictments and several guilty pleas from Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and members of his 2016 campaign.
The poll found that only 30 percent approved of Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation. Other polls have found similar margins of approval regarding how Mueller and Trump are handling the investigation.