Why Almost Half Of America Thinks Trump Committed A Crime

by Seth Millstein
Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Days after two former aides to Donald Trump were indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges, a new poll found that nearly half of Americans suspect Trump committed a crime during the 2016 election. The ABC/Washington Post poll also found that a majority of people percent think Monday's indictments are a sign of "broader wrongdoing" in the Trump camp.

On Monday, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Trump staffer Rich Gates were both charged with conspiracy against the United States and 11 other crimes. The same day, the Justice Department also announced that Trump's former policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his communications with a Kremlin-linked Russian professor during the campaign.

In the ABC/Washington Post poll, 49 percent of respondents said they think it's "likely" that Trump committed a crime during the campaign, while 44 percent found that possibility unlikely. A slim majority — 51 percent — said that they don't think the president is cooperating with Mueller's investigation, while 37 percent believe he is and 12 percent have no opinion.

Only 28 percent of Americans told pollsters that they believe criminal wrongdoing among Trump associates is limited to Manafort, Gates, and Papadolpoulos; 53 percent said they think other members of Trump's circle have committed crimes as well, while 19 percent had no opinion.

Not surprisingly, Democratic and Republican voters disagreed sharply about Monday's indictments, Trump's conduct during the campaign, and Mueller's investigation in general. Only 6 percent of Trump voters suspected that the real estate tycoon broke the law during the campaign, compared with 80 percent of Hillary Clinton voters and 58 percent of Americans who either voted third party or didn't vote at all. Likewise, while 83 percent of Clinton voters said they approve of how Mueller is going about his investigation, only 33 percent of Trump voters shared that sentiment.

Still, 58 percent of all respondents in the ABC/Washington Post poll said that they support Mueller's handling of the Russia investigation, and even the majority of Trump voters — 56 percent — said they approve of the charges against Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos. That number jumped to 68 percent among all respondents.

The poll suggests a moderate skepticism toward Trump among the broader electorate, a trend that can also be seen in other public opinion surveys. Since a week after his inauguration, Trump's job approval rating has fallen from 44.3 percent to 38.8 percent, according to RealClearPolitics' running average, while the share of Americans who disapprove of his performance as president has jumped from 44.2 percent to a majority, 56.6 percent, during that same nine-month period. Meanwhile, a Public Policy Polling survey released Oct. 31 — after the Mueller indictments were made public — found that 49 percent of Americans want Trump impeached, compared with 44 percent who do not.

Manafort and Rich were indicted on charges centering on their lobbying activities from years before they joined Team Trump, while Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its investigation of the Trump-Russia matter. None of the three were indicted for actions they took within the Trump campaign itself.

Papadopoulous' guilty plea may be more significant than the indictments, however. Although Papadopopoulos was arrested in July, Mueller's office successfully motioned for his arrest to remain sealed, arguing that the news would "significantly undermine [Papadopoulos'] ability to serve as a proactive cooperator" if it were publicly reported. The use of the term "proactive cooperator" has led some legal experts to conclude that Mueller has probably "flipped" the former Trump campaign adviser, and that Papadopoulos has been cooperating with federal officials in their investigation. To be clear, though, this hasn't been reported by any news organizations.

In truth, it's impossible to game out what's next for Mueller's investigation. He was given an incredibly broad mandate when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein put him on the case, and his team has been almost entirely leak-free. But Thursday's poll numbers make clear that, while the vast majority of Mueller's investigation remains under wraps, most Americans approve of what they've seen so far.