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How the partisan divide on the Russia probe affects voter trust

How does the resignation of the FBI’s deputy director complicate the politics surrounding the Russia investigation? Judy Woodruff talks with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith about the ways the partisan divide affects public trust in institutions like the FBI, plus the prospects for a bipartisan immigration agreement after the White House released details of its plan.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And late today, the Intelligence Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of releasing a controversial memo crafted by Republicans that alleges anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department.

    The committee also voted not to release a separate memo crafted by Democrats.

    The president has five days now to review the Republican memo. He can intervene to block its release, which the Justice Department cautioned last week would be — quote — "extraordinarily reckless."

    And now to our regular Politics Monday duo, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Welcome to both of you.

    So, I was going to start, Tam, by talking about the Andrew McCabe announcement, the fact the number two person at the FBI has announced he's stepping up his retirement, and there are all sorts of reports and questions about how much pressure he was under the do that.

    But I first want to ask you about this new information we just got, that the House Intelligence Committee is going to release that classified memo that they put together which alleges bias at Justice.

    What does this mean?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and, as you say, the president has five days to review this. The White House has said that they're in favor of transparency.

    This sets up yet another fascinating instance of the Justice Department or at least parts of the Justice Department and the White House at odds with each other, and the president potentially making a decision that is against what senior people at the Justice Department would want.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, partisanship. I mean, you have the Republican memo being released, but the Democratic response memo won't be.

  • Amy Walter:


    The interesting thing, we call this, in broad terms, the Russia investigation. I don't know the last time we actually talked about Russia. We spend a lot of time talking about the FBI. We spend a lot of time talking about Robert Mueller or, in this case, now, we have this report, the so-called memo.

    We don't spend a whole lot of time talking about the underlying issues there. And it is — to your first question about the partisanship, it is really polarized now. If you are a Republican, you're less likely to trust the FBI than you were back in 2014. Back in 2014, Gallup found that the approval rating of Republicans for the FBI was 14 points higher than it is today.

    If you're a Democrat, you feel better about the FBI than you did when Obama was there by about nine points. So, what we're seeing happen on Capitol Hill is also happening with voters. They're picking their sides, picking their lane, and what we're going to find, ultimately, if there ever is an answer to the question about what happened in the Russia investigation, what did Russia actually do or not do, voters are already now preconditioned to either trust or distrust the source.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. And let me just add some numbers to that, because why not?

    Our recent PBS NewsHour and NPR poll found that 72 percent of Democrats think that the Russia investigation is fair, while only 26 percent of Republicans think the Russia investigation is fair. A similar breakdown with views of Robert Mueller.

    So what's happening here, as Amy said, is, it is becoming partisan. And the thing is, Robert Mueller is a Republican. But Republicans don't think that he can be fair.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What sort of damage does it do to our institutions to have this kind of partisanship, this kind of divide over whether people trust these institutions to do the jobs they are asked to do?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I am very curious/worried about what happens when there is a significant crisis, whether it is we're going into a situation where there's a war or a terrorist attack. Who are you going to trust? Are you going to trust intelligence? Are you going to trust the president? Are you going to trust the media?

    And all of those are going to be bumping up against each other. Look, it's pretty clear, since 9/11 and the war in Iraq, there were already questions being raised under the Bush administration about trusting intelligence. But now I think that we have gotten into a very different territory, where it is if your side doesn't like the outcome, even before the outcome comes out, you're going to undermine the actual institution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Tam, there have been always been sort of questions bubbling beneath the surface, little questions. Robert Kennedy during — was attorney general when his brother was the president of the United States. But those have been fairly low-level.

    It just seems to have exploded now into the open.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, there are direct attacks coming from the president of the United States against people like Andrew McCabe, who is this deputy director of the FBI who is now out.

    When you have the president of the United States tweeting negative things about a very high-ranking person at the FBI, when you have the president, when he was campaigning, saying that he didn't think that the investigations could be fair because — basically, now you have a situation where, when a personnel change takes place, you have to ask the question, well, was there undue pressure from the president of the United States?

    This is a sort of separation that typically that question wouldn't even come up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, we're in a different time.

    Only a few minutes left, but I do want to bring up immigration.

    Amy, the president released his proposed immigration reform plan last week. That's going to Congress. You're already hearing complaints, criticisms from the left, criticisms from the right.

    Not just what are the prospects for his proposal, but what are the prospects for any sort of immigration plan?

  • Amy Walter:

    It sure doesn't look very good, because if the president of the United States comes out and says, these are our four requirements, and it — again, it's not just that Democrats are saying, we don't like this.

    Folks on the right, especially from the world of Breitbart, Laura Ingraham, others who are immigration hard-liners, saying, this is amnesty, that is a very difficult position for Republicans to be in.

    This is the challenge, I think, right now for Republicans, which is, if you want to do something to support the DACA recipients, you need the president to be leading on this issue. And I don't know how many of them feel 100 percent confident that the president is going to take the heat for them, even though he said previously, I will take that criticism.

    Will he, if the right comes out, and those on the right, more anti-immigration stance, come out and say this bill that the president is supporting is amnesty, will he go out and say, you guys, don't worry about it, Republicans, you go vote for this, I'm going to stand up, I'm going to go take those folks on, I'm going to fight for this bill, and I'm going to convince the public, especially on the Republican side, that this was the right thing to do?

    If I were a Republican member of Congress, I wouldn't be confident that he would do that for me, and that he could change his mind at any moment in this process.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Meanwhile, Democrats are not saying, thank you, President Trump, so very much for this amazing compromise that you have offered.

    The White House is saying, hey, we're offering a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people that are eligible for the DACA program. And Democrats are saying, you are using these people as pawns so that you can change a legal immigration system that has been in place for something like 50 years.

    So he's getting hit from the left, he's getting hit from the right, and it's not sure — it's just not clear that there's a coalition of enough people who think that this thing that the White House has offered is the right path.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Whoa, we have a political divide.

  • Tamara Keith:

    What do you know?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What a surprise. Surprise.

    Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, Politics Monday, we thank you both.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.