Posts tagged with "Russia investigation"

CNN poll: 50% of Americans think probe will implicate the president

December 12, 2018

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election focuses in on the denizens of the White House, approval of the president’s conduct has dwindled—matching its all-time low in CNN polling, the cable news network reported on December 11.

In the new poll, Trump’s approval rating for handling the Russia investigation has dipped to 29%, matching a low previously hit in June of this year.

The findings, from a poll fielded on behalf of CNN by SSRS, come as half of Americans say they think it is likely that the Mueller investigation will implicate the president in wrongdoing.

The survey was conducted December 6-9—at a time when court filings in cases against Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen revealed the alleged lies that Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and former personal lawyer, respectively, told either publicly or to the special counsel’s investigators.

President Trump claimed last weekend that the filings by the SCO and the federal court in the Southern District of New York cleared him of any wrongdoing and called for the investigation to end, CNBC reports.

However, the news outlet says, the Cohen filing implicates Trump in the scheme to pay off at least two women who alleged they had had affairs with Trump in order to keep them silent during the campaign; and the Manafort filing suggests the former campaign chair continued to lie about his contacts with the White House this year.

Interestingly enough, Mueller’s approval rating also is down in the poll: 43% approve and 40% disapprove. That compares to a 48% approve to 36% disapprove split in early October. The dip in Mueller’s numbers comes almost entirely among Independents, among whom approval has fallen 10 points to 36%. Among partisans on both sides, Mueller’s approval holds about even with where it was in an October survey: 71% of Democrats approve as do 21% of Republicans.

Trump’s approval rating drop, however, comes among his own partisans as well as among independents. Among Republicans, 51% approve of Trump’s handling of the investigation, a new low by one point, while among independents, 26% approve, also a new low. Just 15% of Democrats approve of the president’s handling of the investigation, up from October but about on par with the level who felt that way earlier this year.

Overall, a majority (54%) continue to say that most of the things Trump has said publicly about the Russia investigation are false, while just over one-third say they are mostly true (36%). That’s largely unchanged since August.

There has also been no meaningful change on whether the investigation itself is a serious matter or mainly an effort to discredit Trump’s presidency: 59% say it’s a serious matter, 35% an effort to discredit Trump.

Half of Americans think it is very or somewhat likely that the Mueller investigation will implicate Trump personally in wrongdoing. That figure is higher among Democrats (78% say it’s likely), but still, nearly a quarter of Republicans think Trump is likely to be personally implicated (23%) as do about half of independents (47%). Aside from partisanship there’s a stark divide here by education among whites, with 58% of whites with college degrees saying they think Trump is likely to be implicated vs. 43% of whites without degrees.

Looking at Michael Cohen’s recent revelation that work continued on a potential project in Russia during the 2016 campaign, 44% believe Trump acted unethically in considering projects in Russia during the campaign, 26% say it was unwise but not unethical, and 23% say there was nothing wrong with Trump’s action.

Trump’s overall approval rating for handling the presidency matches its pre-election level just about exactly, 39% approve and 52% disapprove. Trump’s favorability rating is also steady at 40% favorable to 55% unfavorable.

Research contact: @jennagiesta

Flake: Mueller protection bill has votes to pass Senate

December 3, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) said on November 30 that he believes legislation protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller—and prevent President Donald Trump from carrying out another Nixon-style Saturday Night Massacre—could pass the Senate, if Republican leadership would agree to bring it up for a vote, The Hill reported.

“I do believe the votes are there on the floor if we can just get a vote, and that’s what I’m calling, let’s just have a vote,” Flake told CNN, asked about a measure that would protect Mueller from being fired without good cause.

The legislation—originally drafted by Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Christopher Coons (D-Delaware), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)— has been given the cold shoulder for months by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

At a press conference last week, McConnell characterized it as “A solution in search of a problem,” adding that “The president is not going to fire Robert Mueller.”

“I don’t know how we can be sanguine about what’s going on over at the Department of Justice in terms of the Mueller probe. It’s important to protect it,” Flake added on Friday. 

Flake, joined by Coons and Booker, appeared on the Senate floor twice in November, attempting to get a vote,  and has been blocked both times. Flake is pledging to oppose all of Trump’s judicial nominees until he gets a vote on the bill, rankling his colleagues who have made confirming the president’s picks their top priority.

Flake and Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) are joining all 49 Democrats to oppose Thomas Farr’s district judge nomination— denying him the 50 votes needed to let Vice President Mike Pence break a tie.

“We need to protect the special counsel; it’s important. Confirming judges is important,” Flake, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, said, according to The Hill report. “I want to confirm more judges … but this has to be priority now. And you have to take a stand. I have leverage because we have a narrow majority on the Judiciary Committee, so I’m using it.”

Research contact: @jordainc

In 2016, Manafort held secret talks with Wikileaks’ Assange in Ecuadorian embassy

November 28, 2018

President Donald Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he had sought asylum—and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, The Guardian reported on November 27.

Manafort’s March 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, a source told the news outlet. Just two months later, in June 2016, WikiLeaks emailed Russian intelligence (the GRU) via an intermediary—seeking DNC materials. After failed attempts, Vladimir Putin’s spies sent the Democrats’ documents in mid-July to WikiLeaks as an encrypted attachment.

What’s more, this was not Manafort’s first visit to Assange. The Guardian’s “well-placed” source said that Manafort previously had visited Assanage at the embassy in 2013 and 2015.

Indeed, The Guardian reported, Manafort’s acquaintance with Assange goes back at least five years, to late 2012 or 2013, when the American was working in Ukraine and advising its Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.

However, it is the 2016 encounter that is especially likely to come under scrutiny by Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Just this week, Mueller said that Manafort had “repeatedly lied to the FBI” after he promised to cooperate with the probe in mid-September. The former campaign manager now has been referred by Mueller to the court for sentencing. Whether the secret tête-à-tête in London already has been investigated Mueller’s team is unknown.

According to The Guardian’s report, Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.

His defense team says he believes what he has told Mueller to be truthful and has not violated his deal.

One key question is when the Trump campaign, itself, became aware of the Kremlin’s hacking operation—and what, if anything, it did to encourage it. President Trump repeatedly has denied collusion

One person familiar with WikiLeaks said Assange was motivated to damage the Democrats campaign because he believed a future Trump administration would be less likely to seek his extradition on possible charges of espionage. This fate had hung over Assange since 2010, when he released confidential U.S. State Department cables. It contributed to his decision to take refuge in the embassy.

According to the dossier written by the former MI6 Officer Christopher Steele, The Guardian reports, Manafort was at the center of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia’s leadership. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Steele wrote, whom Putin “hated and feared.”

Research contact: @lukeharding1968

Standoff on Special Counsel Act persists between Flake and McConnell

November  19, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)—who is leaving the U.S. Congress in December, but flirting with a primary run against President Trump in 2020—has everything to win and little to lose. Last week, he pushed that advantage by taking to the Senate floor with across-the-aisle colleague Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware.) in an attempt to secure immediate passage of S. 2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

The bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in April by a bipartisan vote of 14-7, once again was blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who continues to say that the legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is not necessary because the probe is not under pressure.

However, following the president’s removal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions one day after the midterm elections—and subsequent appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a White House acolyte—Flake asserted, “The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it.”

And he backed that assertion with two threats: One further note on this unanimous consent request: because it has failed today, Senator Coons and I are prepared to raise it again and again, until there is a vote on this vital bipartisan legislation on the Senate floor. And I have informed the Majority Leader that I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee, or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting a confirmation vote on the floor, until S. 2644 is brought to the full Senate for a vote.”

At a closed-door lunch on the following day, November 15, both Flake and McConnell were equally implacable. “It’s a standoff,” said a Republican senator who attended the lunch, in an interview with The Hill.

According to the political news outlet, McConnell argued at the lunch meeting that the legislation would chew up precious floor time during the lame-duck session and leave less time for must-pass bills such as the unfinished spending bills and the farm bill, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Flake, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, didn’t buy that argument. Flake argued that the bill could be dealt with in a day as long as other members of the GOP conference didn’t object to it and force McConnell to waste time getting through a filibuster.

Some Republican senators floated the compromise of crafting some kind of non-binding resolution that would express support for protecting Mueller and future special counsels from unjustified dismissal. But Flake rejected that option, too, The Hill reported.

Asked Thursday if fellow GOP senators are unhappy with his hardball approach to getting a vote, Flake said, “That’s a safe assumption.”

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) held over 15 judicial nominees at a committee business meeting Thursday after Flake declared he would block them. Speaking to reporters afterward, Grassley said he didn’t think he could move any more nominees without Flake’s support, unless he can convince Democrats on the panel to vote with him.

As the impasse continued, a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey found that 40% of likely U.S. voters believe Mueller’s investigation should be closed. Fifty-one percent (51%) think the probe of Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election should continue.

Research contact: @alexanderbolton

Mueller rejects Manafort plea deal before second trial

August 29, 2018

President Donald Trump’s former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort tried to make a deal with the Special Counsel ahead of his second trial in Washington, D.C., but the talks fell apart, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

Manafort’s defense team reportedly held plea discussions with prosecutors last week— hoping to help their client “flip” before he was held accountable for helping Russia interfere in the 2016 elections—but the talks stalled over objections raised by Robert Mueller.

The Journal was unable to determine the nature of those objections, and representatives for Manafort and Mueller declined to comment for the report.

Manafort is facing a second set of charges in D.C. related to his work for a Russia–backed political party in Ukraine, as well as his offer of reports on the campaign to a wealthy Russian to whom he owed money. He is being accused of failing to register as a foreign agent, among other charges.

The former Trump associate was convicted by in an Alexandria, Virginia-based federal jury trial on eight felony counts in the first legal victory for Mueller’s team. The jury found Manafort guilty on five charges of filing false income tax returns, one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. They deadlocked on the other 10 of 18 counts, with one juror holding out.

According to Politico, Mueller’s team in recent days has shortened its estimate of the length of Manafort’s upcoming trial, which is scheduled to start on September 17. The special counsel’s prosecutors wrote it could be completed in around two, rather than three, weeks.

Research contact: @aviswanatha

Trump tied to Cohen’s guilty plea; Manafort considers next steps

August 23, 2018

“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” President Donald Trump tweeted early on August 22, following a day in which his former “fixer” surrendered to the FBI in New York City and pleaded guilty to eight violations of banking, tax, and campaign finance laws–implicating the POTUS in the process.

The feeling is mutual: For years, one of Trump’s most trusted confidantes, as well as his personal attorney, Cohen made it abundantly clear in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that he has flipped and is willing to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team about the Russia case—less than a year after he said he “would take a bullet for” the president.

His only loyalty now, he has said, remains with his wife, his children, and the American people.

Specifically, in court, he said that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump [referred to as a candidate for federal office] directed him to make payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with the president in exchange for their silence.

According to his lawyer Lanny Davis—who also represented President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal—Cohen has information that would be of “significant interest” to Mueller’s team. Davis told MSNBC that the information pertains both to “knowledge of a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI.”

Although Cohen’s recommended sentence for his crimes currently stands at five years, the implication is that—if he is of sufficient use to the Mueller team—that sentence may be reduced.

Also on August 21, Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort was found guilty by a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, on eight out of 18 tax and bank fraud charges leveled against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a case meant to bring pressure against the defendant to turn on his former boss.

Manafort is due back in court in Washington, D.C., next month for a second trial centered on allegations of lying to the FBI, money laundering and foreign lobbying, according to the Washington Post. Pundits said he “had plenty to think about” on Wednesday night.

Trump has continued to call Manafort’s prosecution “sad” and to insist that his former campaign aide has been swept up in a “witch hunt” instigated by the Democratic Party.

“Paul Manafort’s a good man,” Trump told reporters in West Virginia. The verdict, he said, “doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened.”

On August 22, according to Gallup, Trump’s favorability rating remained stable, at 42%.

Research contact: datainquiry@gallup.com

Chilling news for White House: Counsel Don McGahn cooperated with Mueller

August 21, 2018

White House Counsel Don McGahn —who signed on with Donald Trump in 2015 as the lawyer for his long-shot presidential bid and remains with him to this day—has cooperated extensively with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a dozen current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter, The New York Times reported on August 18..

In an estimated 30-plus hours of voluntary interviews with the special counsel’s team over the past nine months, McGahn allegedly shared detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to the news outlet.

Reportedly, McGahn described the president’s fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged his counsel to respond to it. He provided the investigators examining whether Trump has obstructed justice a clear view of the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer.

Among them were the POTUS’s comments and actions during the firing of the F.B.I. Director  James B. Comey; as well as Trump’s obsession with putting a loyalist in charge of the inquiry, including his repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of it. McGahn also was centrally involved in the president’s attempts to fire the special counsel, which investigators might not have discovered without him.

For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual, the Times noted.  Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators—not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients; but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege.

A prosecutor would kill for that,” Solomon Wisenberg, a deputy independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, told the Times. That probe  did not have the same level of cooperation from President Bill Clinton’s lawyers. “Oh my God, it would have been phenomenally helpful to us. It would have been like having the keys to the kingdom.”

McGahn’s cooperation began in part as a result of a decision by President Trump’s first team of criminal lawyers to collaborate fully with Mueller. The president’s lawyers have explained that they believed their client had nothing to hide and that they could bring the investigation to an end quickly.

McGahn and his own retained lawyer, William A. Burck, could not understand why the president was so willing to allow McGahn to speak freely to the special counsel—and feared Mr. Trump was setting up McGahn to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction, according to people close to him. So he and Burck devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate with Mueller, in order to demonstrate that McGahn did nothing wrong, the Times reports..

It is not clear that Mr. Trump appreciates the extent to which Mr. McGahn has cooperated with the special counsel. The president wrongly believed that  McGahn would act as a personal lawyer would for clients and solely defend his interests to investigators, according to a person with knowledge of his thinking.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for the  article.

Asked for comment, the White House sought to quell the sense of tension. “The president and Don have a great relationship,” the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court” nominees.

The president stressed that the White House had been cooperative with the investigation, tweeting on August 18 after this article was published that McGahn had been allowed to speak to the special counsel:  “I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. In addition we readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”

Research contact: @nytmike

Erik Prince has flipped for Mueller

June 20, 2018

While Americans continue to seesaw in their approval of the Russia probe generally—and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in particular—more of President Donald Trump’s aides and supporters continue to flip for the investigators. Erik Prince, founder of private military contractor Blackwater, told The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff on June 19 that he now is among the witnesses who have “cooperated” with the ongoing investigation into Russian election interference.

Prince, who reportedly met with a Russian wealth fund manager in the Seychelles during the transition to set up a back channel between the Trump administration and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, told Woodruff that he has “spoken voluntarily to Congress and I also cooperated with the special counsel.”

At first, Prince, who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, had claimed that he merely took the trip as a vacation jaunt and encountered the Russian briefly and casually.

Now, The Daily Beast reports, Prince is all-in on the Trump-Putin connection. “As I’ve said before, if Franklin Roosevelt can work with Joseph Stalin to defeat German fascism, Nazi fascism, national socialist fascism, then certainly Donald Trump can work with Putin to defeat Islamic fascism,” he said.

What’s more, the Blackwater founder said, a relationship with North Korea will be beneficial. I don’t think we have to be provocative with NATO and I think it’s a good idea for the president to reach out diplomatically,” Prince divulged, adding, “ I mean, for heaven’s sakes, he’s sitting down and talking to Kim [Jong-un] of North Korea. Putin is a much more rational actor and I think it’s totally appropriate for the president to sit down and try to thaw the situation.”

” … All I will add,” Prince told Woodruff, “is that much of the reporting about me in the media is inaccurate, and I am confident that when the investigators have finished their work, we will be able to put these distractions to the side.”

Meanwhile, it is no surprise that a Politico/Morning Consult poll released on June 13 found that 53% of Republicans now say they view the lead Russian investigator in an unfavorable light.

Research contact: @woodruffbets

Voters don’t give Trump a pass on gun control, healthcare, or Dreamers

March 21, 2018

Americans are paying close attention to several policy areas—among them, immigration, healthcare, gun violence and North Korea—in which they think President Donald Trump has taken the wrong approach, based on findings of a George Washington University Battleground Poll released on March 12.

Specifically, the poll of 1,000 registered U.S. voters nationwide found that a majority are worried about the POTUS’s handling of immigration (42% approve, 56% disapprove), healthcare (38%/56%), gun violence (39%/55%) and North Korea (41%/53%). 

Chief among the areas of concern is gun control. When asked how closely they’ve been following a given topic, almost all respondents said they were “closely” (72%) or “somewhat closely” (22%) following the aftermath of the premeditated mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a month ago.

On the Russia investigation, a slightly large number of respondents now believe that “members of the Trump campaign committed crimes and actively assisted Russia’s efforts”—up  to 39% from 31% in the previous edition of the GW Battleground Poll in August 2017. However, voters were split over how much the issue will matter to them when they enter their polling places next November: 41% said it was” not at all important” in the context of their 2018 voting decisions. About the same amount said it was “extremely important” (27%) or “very important” (13%) important to them. More Independents said it was “extremely important” (28%) or “very important” (12%) than “not important at all” (36%).

“The composition of the poll’s respondent universe reminds us that, even as issues rise and fall swiftly in the news these days, the electorate remains heavily skewed toward middle-aged and older voters,” said Michael Cornfield, associate professor of Political Management and research director of the GW Center for Political Management. “Candidate positions on issues that matter greatly to young people, starting with the heavily followed Parkland shooting story that stars high school activists, could be significant in enlarging the traditionally small voter pool for the midterm elections.”

Moving to the economy—a marginally brighter spot in the public’s perception—opinions still were split. The poll found that about half (52%) of likely voters approved of the approach that the president has taken with respect to jobs, with 41% disapproving. The split was similar for his handling of the overall economy (51% approve, 45% disapprove).

Voters are conflicted about the state of the American dream. Almost three-quarters (72%) think that they will be financially better off in five years, but only one-third (37%) believe that the next generation will be better off economically.

Looking ahead to this year’s congressional elections, the GW Battleground Poll found a slight shift in voters’ attitudes toward the candidates. Presented with a generic ballot, 49% of voters chose a Democrat and 40% chose a Republican. In the previous edition of the GW Battleground Poll, those figures were 44% and 38%, respectively. Undecided voters decreased to 12% from 1%.

Democrats also appeared more enthusiastic than did Republicans ahead of the midterm elections. Among voters who say they are “extremely likely” to vote in the upcoming midterms, 51% prefer Democrats, while 39% prefer Republicans. Among voters who say they are “very likely” to vote, Democrats enjoy a 10-point advantage (48% to 38%).

The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership.

Research contact: jshevrin@gwu.edu

28% of Americans think Facebook should be fined for its role in Russian interference

February 23, 2018

More than one-quarter of Americans believe that social media site Facebook should be fined for its role in Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election.

The online survey of 1,000 people, conducted by market research firm Honest Data, “casts new light on the American populace’s view of Facebook’s culpability in those alleged crimes,” USA Today reports.

The survey was completed just two days before Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three businesses—including an internet firm tied to the Kremlin—on charges of conspiracy, identity theft, failing to register as foreign agents, and violating laws that limit the use of foreign money in U.S. elections.

But, long before this month’s indictments, Facebook already had been implicated: After initially dismissing a suggestion that Facebook may have played a part in a foreign influence campaign by running ads and “fake news” from the Russians, last November, CEO Mark Zuckerberg conceded that there had been interference and vowed to stop it.

According to Honest Data, a polling firm founded by ex-Facebook employee Tavis McGinn, 28% of Americans with an online presence believe that Facebook should be fined for allowing the spread of Russian misinformation.

The possibility of a fine for Facebook stems from calls by Democratic lawmakers to more strongly regulate the social network and online political

Initially, Facebook had revealed more than 10 million users saw Russian-linked advertising, with 44% of it viewed before the election. 

However, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch testified before the Senate last October that as many as 126 million people—roughly one-third of the U.S. population—had been exposed to posts from Russian accounts, thanks to the impact of seemingly organic user posts along with the ads. The following month, Facebook revealed the number was closer to 146 million.

During an interview with USA Today last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to stop election interference, but admitted that he did not know whether that would happen by November midterm elections. “We have a pretty good track record as a company of — once we set our mind to doing something — we eventually get it done.”

Research contact@brettmolina23.