WASHINGTON — Most Americans think Donald Trump did something illegal or at least unethical regarding ties between his presidential campaign and Russia — and they think he’s trying to obstruct the investigation looking into those possible connections.
The deeply divided country is more concerned about health care and the economy than any collusion with the Kremlin, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But the survey also shows that Americans are unhappy with the way Trump is dealing with the investigations led by Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller.
Most people believe Trump is trying to obstruct the investigations, which have resulted in charges against four of his campaign advisers and increasingly appear focused on the president’s inner circle.
Four in 10 Americans think the president has done something illegal when it comes to Russia, while an additional 3 in 10 say he’s at least done something unethical. And 68 percent disapprove of his response to the investigations.
There are significant partisan divisions, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to be concerned about Trump’s actions or to feel invested in what the probes uncover.
Debra Nanez in Arizona said that she believes Trump broke the law and has been lying to the American people.
“If you go back and do a rewind, you say, ‘Yep, he’s guilty.’ He’s lied so badly to us from the beginning until now. He was involved in it. He knew what was going on,” said Nanez, 65, who doesn’t affiliate with a political party.
But Mary Ruth Stephenson, 83, of Kentucky says she’s not yet sure whether Trump has broken the law.
“Unethical, yes. I mean the whole picture of that man is unethical. Illegal? I’ll just have to hold that in abeyance until I find out more about what went down,” said Stephenson, a registered Republican who says she’s unhappy with the current GOP.
Overall, 62 percent of Democrats say they think Trump has done something illegal, while just 5 percent of Republicans think the same. Among Republicans, 33 percent think he’s done something unethical, while 60 percent think he’s done nothing wrong at all.
Both Nanez and Stephenson, like 63 percent of Americans, say Trump has tried to impede or obstruct the investigations into whether his campaign had Russian ties. According to the survey, 86 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 24 percent of Republicans agree.
Still, just short of half of Americans — 47 percent — say they’re extremely or very concerned about whether Trump or others involved with his campaign had inappropriate contacts with the Russian government. Those results fall along party lines, too, and are largely unchanged since March.
How have strains in the U.S.-Russia relations affected Russian-Americans and recent immigrants? Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports from the Brighton BEach neighborhood of Brooklyn, the first stop for many of the 3 million Russian or former Soviet Union immigrants who come to the U.S., to get their take on the charges of election meddling.
“I feel like there are so many more important issues that we could be focusing on other than something that’s basically water under the bridge,” said Martina Childers, a 53-year-old Republican who lives in Colorado.
She said the economy, taxes, the military and small business concerns are more pressing issues. The Russia investigations? “I don’t think that’s so important. I just don’t,” she said.
Childers’ views reflect the feelings of a majority of Americans. Just 4 in 10 call the Russia investigation very or extremely important to them. By contrast, immigration, taxes and health care are all considered much more important, according to the survey.
Melinda McLaughlin, who identifies as an independent and lives in Ohio, said she, too, believes tax reform and the economy are more important issues, but that doesn’t mean she’s not concerned about the Russia investigations.
“I do feel like there was either collusion or a connection there that affected the election, and I do not feel like the president is telling the truth about his involvement in it,” said McLaughlin, who is 56.
She’s withholding judgment on whether she’ll trust the ultimate findings of Congress and Mueller.
In fact, at this point few Americans have high confidence in either Mueller or Congress to fairly investigate the issue.
Of the special counsel’s investigation, just 26 percent say they’re very or extremely confident that it will be fair and impartial, while an additional 31 percent are moderately confident. Opinions about the possibility of a fair and impartial congressional investigation are even lower, with just 13 percent saying they’re very or extremely confident in that happening and 32 percent saying they’re moderately confident.
In Colorado, Childers said she can’t completely trust Mueller.
“I feel like there may be some ulterior motives there,” she said, noting that Trump “ruffled a lot of feathers” when he took office.
But in rural Kentucky, Stephenson said she has high confidence in Mueller.
“I don’t see how anybody could be unbiased, but if he doesn’t show it in his investigation or his conclusions, that’s integrity,” she said of Mueller. “I have to go on what so many people have said: They believe in him. They trust him. They think he’s honest.”
Though, she couldn’t say the same thing about Congress.
“What a bunch of crap,” she said.
The AP-NORC poll surveyed 1,020 adults from Dec. 7-11 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Interviews were conducted online and using landlines and cellphones.