Mueller, FBI face crisis in public confidence

Sixty-three percent of polled voters believe that the FBI has been resisting providing information to Congress on the Clinton and Trump investigations. This is a remarkable finding for an agency whose new head said a few days ago that the agency was in fine shape. No, it isn’t.

Fifty-four percent say special counsel Robert Mueller has conflicts of interest that prevent him from doing an unbiased job, also according to this month’s Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll. So, given this finding, the silence from the special counsel on the subject has become downright deafening.

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These are significant findings about an operation that was supposed to bring more objectivity and less partisanship to the Trump-Russia investigation. Clearly these numbers indicate that there is a crisis in public confidence in both the FBI and Mueller. What makes these findings important is that, with Trump’s approval rating at 41 percent, these results include large numbers of voters who don’t like Trump yet who now agree that these investigations have veered off course.

After this poll was conducted, we learned that rogue agent Peter Strzok and his paramour, Lisa Page, both high-ranking members of the Mueller task force, discussed during the campaign how, in case Trump won, that they were developing, along with deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, what Strzok called an “insurance policy.” I can’t even imagine how badly these new facts will poll next month.

Our polling in November showed that 61 percent say the funding of the salacious GPS Fusion document should be investigated. Fifty-eight percent say that if Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Michael Moore ties Obama to Trump's win in Michigan in 2016 The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’? MORE and the Democrats funded the work, it could not be used by law enforcement. While this seems obvious to the public, Congress has not been able to get the answer to the question of just how this dossier was used and whether the FBI then paid some of the cost to legitimize it. Even greater numbers — 65 percent — said there needs to be an investigation of the Uranium One deal that netted the Clinton Foundation $140 million in foreign-based contributions that went undisclosed.

One plus for the Mueller investigation is that the public did overwhelmingly endorse the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and most think he should get jail time, believing, rightly or wrongly, that his talking to the Russians even during the transition was likely illegal. But that does not change the overall public assessment that the Mueller investigation is blown and that the FBI is stonewalling. Even back in the days of the Monica Lewinsky investigation, which I worked on with President Clinton, the special counsel was not seen as having a conflict of interest.

New facts related to the issue of bias seem to be emerging every day. More important, though, a counter theory has emerged in which the dossier was peddled to the FBI rather systematically, including by hiring the wife of an FBI official, and then, despite its obvious bias and false content, used to start the Russia investigation by agents who were tinged with animus. The theory goes that they signed the wiretaps that were then unmasked by various Obama administration officials, who then were able to snoop on the transition.

Former FBI Director James Comey, in showing the document to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE, didn’t tell him that it was funded by the Democrats because it was all an attempt to entrap him anyway — the insurance policy. A few months ago this certainly seemed far-fetched but today, with each new fact and with the failure of the officials to respond meaningfully to Congress, there is certainly more evidence behind these theories. To top it off, most Americans now also see that the treatment being given to Trump aides is far harsher than occurred with Clinton’s aides, despite their being caught in obvious lies, claiming they did not even know about the email server.

Someone now is going to have to stand up and have the courage to clean all this up, get to the full facts and reset the whole investigation to look at everything here, from the original Clinton investigation on through the transition. The president’s hands are tied, but the attorney general could step in or resign. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray could wake up to the reality and act. Maybe there is an inspector general who could be empowered. When you look at the polling numbers and the stream of revelations, the current course is simply untenable and likely to go from a crisis in confidence to a full-blown constitutional crisis if not corrected.

Mark Penn is co-director of the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll and was a pollster for Bill Clinton during six years of his presidency.