President Donald Trump has said the real reason he fired James Comey from the FBI was because of the bureau’s investigation into links between Trump’s 2016 campaign associates and Russia. But that doesn’t seem to have gotten through to the majority of Republican voters.
Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Republicans still believe the White House’s first rationale for Comey’s firing — that the FBI director was dismissed for poorly handling the investigation into Hillary Clinton emails — according to a recent public poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal. Overall, 38 percent of Americans still believe Clinton’s emails were behind the firing, according to the poll conducted from May 11 to 13.
Trump’s decision to fire Comey still isn’t playing well with the American public overall — only 29 percent of Americans approve of the decision, while 38 percent disapprove. And the reactions continue to be partisan; 58 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s decision, while 66 percent of Democrats disapproved. This is a continuation of early public polling on Comey’s firing from multiple outlets that showed Republicans were largely brushing off the Comey story.
One thing has changed however: Overall, 78 percent of surveyed Americans said they prefer a special prosecutor or independent investigation into the possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, including 68 percent of Republican voters. This has been a major call among Democratic lawmakers in Washington, and a demand Republican congressional leaders have been quick to push against. But among American voters, this poll suggests there is more bipartisan support.
Comey’s firing is still a partisan issue, but Russia might not be as much
The NBC/WSJ poll results suggest Republicans nationally are largely in step with their leaders in Washington on the Russia issue. News of Comey’s firing created some divisions among Republican politicians, who have expressed concern with Trump’s decision to fire a man currently investigating the administration. But overwhelmingly, Republican leadership has toed the White House’s line on Comey’s dismissal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he sees no need for a new investigation, and that a special prosecutor would only slow down the progress already being made by Congress and the intelligence community. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the same.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that is currently conducting an investigation into Russia’s influence on the presidential election, advised those who are comparing the Comey firing to Watergate to “suck it up and move on.”
But the decision to fire Comey has again elevated the congressional and intelligence community’s investigations into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election. On that broader story, polls show Americans forming more negative opinions about Trump’s possible connections to Russia, as Politico’s Steven Shepard explained:
First, as Americans have formed opinions on the issue, it has been to Trump’s detriment. Since December, the percentage of undecided Americans on the Trump-Putin relationship has declined from 44 percent to 32 percent. At the same time, the percentage who view Trump as too friendly with the Russian leader has risen from 31 percent to 38 percent.
In other words, while Comey remains a partisan issue, the bigger news surrounding Russia and the Trump campaign seems to be raising more eyebrows across party lines.