NEW YORK — A slim majority of Americans favour an independent investigation into the Trump campaign's ties with the Russian government, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that showed public views about the controversy driving congressional investigations are sharply divided along party lines.
Amid questions swirling in Washington that have forced the resignation of one top Trump official and the scrutiny of several others, most Americans say they're at least somewhat concerned about the possibility that the Republican businessman's campaign had inappropriate contacts with the Russian government, but less than half say they're very concerned.
More than three-quarters of Democrats favour an independent investigation into Trump's Russian ties while only one-quarter of Republicans do. Overall, 52 per cent of Americans favour such a probe, while 23 per cent are opposed. Another 22 per cent say they neither favour nor oppose an investigation. Asked if they favour an independent investigation into the issue of Moscow's meddling in the 2016 campaign, Americans broke along similar margins.
"Russia has always been an enemy of the United States and of democracy across the world. Our politicians have no business making secret deals with them. That's not the America I know," said John Dodd, 68, who runs a bowling alley in Big Spring, Texas. "Every day, I turn on the news and it feels like there's more to it. For our country's sake, I hope it leads to nowhere. But I am afraid it does."
Questions about possible ties between Trump's associates and Russian officials have dogged the White House.
Since July, the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russia's interference in the election and possible co-ordination with Trump associates. House and Senate intelligence committees, led by Republican lawmakers, are also investigating. Some Democratic leaders have called for an independent investigation, saying the congressional probes, particularly the House investigation, has been tainted by political interference from the White House.
Several Trump associates have been caught up in the controversy. Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after he misled the vice-president about conversations with a Russian ambassador. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Justice Department investigation after he did not disclose a meeting with the same ambassador. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has volunteered to be questioned by congressional investigators. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort's connections to Russia are part of the congressional probes.
The president has steadfastly denied any inappropriate links to Russia.
According to the poll, 44 per cent of Americans say they're very or extremely concerned that Trump or others involved in his campaign had inappropriate contacts with the Russian government. Another 18 per cent say they're somewhat concerned, and 36 per cent say they're not very concerned or not concerned at all.
"The election was tampered with — the Russians stole it for Trump," said Lamar Walker, 47, a Democrat from LaGrange, Georgia. "This man now has the nuclear war codes. But all he cares about is the wall, the Mexicans and going golfing. He said he was going to make America great again. I have not seen one thing he has actually made greater."
But Republicans have a sharply different view.
"They are just kicking up dust. It's obstruction. It's just another way to try to block this president," said Edward Vazquez, a 46-year-old Republican who works as an engineer in Odesa , Texas.
Intelligence officials have determined that Russia worked to influence the campaign by hacking the Democratic National Committee and Democratic officials. The information was shared with online leakers. Officials believe that aim was to boost the Trump campaign.
Trump has said he accepts this determination, although he has been broadly dismissing of the congressional investigations and the steady stream of reporting on new developments. Trump lashed out in early March accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping the phone at Trump Tower. He asked House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as FBI Director James Comey, have said they've seen no evidence to support the claim.
On the whole, Americans are far less likely to see a need for an investigation into Trump's wiretapping accusations — 35 per cent in favour to 38 per cent opposed. But that again was starkly divided along party lines. Nearly half of Republicans but less than a third of Democrats or independents, favour an investigation.
A majority of Democrats think that Republicans in Congress haven't been critical enough of Trump, while the majority of Republicans think that Democrats have made too much about Trump's alleged ties to Russia, according to the poll.
Among Republicans, an overwhelming 76 per cent feel that the media has been too critical of Trump. Democrats are split — 45 per cent think the media has been mostly fair, while another 38 per cent think the media has not been critical enough.
"We're incredibly partisan. We can't even sit down and talk to the other side anymore," said Ron Larson, a 64-year-old Republican who works as an accountant in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Larson said he didn't have strong feelings one way or the other about the need for a special investigator into the Russia links, he was just disheartened to see an young presidency paralyzed by party loyalty.
"This is why we can't get anything done," he said. "All Washington does is fight."
The AP-NORC poll of 1,110 adults was conducted March 23-27 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 4.0 percentage points.
Interviews were conducted online and using landlines and cellphones.
AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson reported from Washington.
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Jonathan Lemire And Emily Swanson, The Associated Press