Friday, January 11, 2019

Mueller is Political, Not Legal Challenge for Trump

The political environment of the Trump administration will change dramatically in 2019.
  • The new Congress has started and Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker. The Democratic majority was elected to restrain President Trump. They will have powers of appropriation, authorization, oversight and investigation. President Trump produced much of the political news during his first two years. But Congress and especially the House will now become a source of news and reaction. Mitch McConnell will have several more Trump-friendly members and two new Democrats from Arizona and Nevada. His larger majority should help on appointments, but as members face re-election in 2020, cracks already visible will widen (Cory Gardner and Susan Collins).
  • The Trump stock market (his claim) has given back half its gains since his election and appears to have a very volatile 2019 ahead of it. Interest rate increases and tariffs are major challenges.
  • Most importantly, the Mueller investigation is likely to end in 2019 with some additional indictments, pleas, sentencings and a report. There will also be a struggle over management of the Justice Department with a looming confirmation fight.
The President believes the Mueller investigation is not a legal problem, but a political issue to manage with his usual public relations tools. Although he could be indicted by the House, the Senate is unlikely to convict and the Justice Department will not charge him with a crime. Hence, his goal is to simply discredit it. However, after more than a year of political effort, he has not been successful in muffling, sidelining or damaging the credibility of the investigation. In fact, some polls indicate he’s losing ground in his effort to discredit Mueller personally, his staff and the investigation in general.

Trump’s main problem is that his believability has declined dramatically with all but his most committed supporters. His reputation for lying is now well-established and it makes his witch hunt claims against the investigation ring false with six out of 10 Americans. When asked in a USA Today/Suffolk University poll, 59 percent of the public offered “little or no trust” for Trump vs. 53 percent who said a “lot or some trust” for Mueller.

The major national polls asked Mueller investigation questions in their year-end polls and Trump did poorly: A majority approve of the investigation (56%, FOX News), a majority (58%, AP/NORC) believe he tried to obstruct the investigation.
The host of year-end polls also show the public believes Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election, 62 percent do not believe Trump has been honest and truthful with the investigation, and only 34 percent believe it should end.
  • Trump’s statement that Russia did not try to interfere with the U.S. presidential election – Believe it – 15%, Republican 27%, Democrat 5% (Washington Post Fact Checker poll, N1025, Nov. 29-Dec. 10, 2018)
  • Trump’s been honest and truthful in investigation – 62% no. Mueller investigation should end – 34% end, 45% continue (Wall Street Journal/NBC News, N900, Dec. 9-12, 2018)

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