Bad news for Trump: 64% of Americans think attempting and failing to obstruct justice is as bad as obstructing justice

Tasos Katopodis/Getty ImagesSpecial Counsel Robert Mueller walks after attending church on March 24, 2019 in Washington, DC.
  • In a new INSIDER survey, 64% of Americans said they thought trying and failing to obstruct justice is as bad or worse than obstruction of justice.
  • The special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on the Russia investigation listed numerous occasions during which President Donald Trump’s aides refused to carry out the president’s requests to interfere in ongoing investigations
  • 55% of respondents said it was equally as bad to attempt and fail, and 10% said it was in fact worse.
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On April 18, the Department of Justice released a redacted version of special counsel Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 US election and whether President Donald Trump and other administration officials attempted to obstruct federal investigations.

While the report documented extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump or anyone associated with his campaign with conspiracy.

The report did say “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome” and the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

On the issue of obstruction, the Mueller report said that, in many cases, Trump failed in his efforts to impede the Mueller probe and other federal investigations because his own aides chose not to follow through with his requests.

Trump and his allies claimed victory after the Attorney General William Barr published a four-page summary of the Mueller report, and again when the full, redacted document came out, falsely claiming the report had cleared him of obstruction. INSIDER’s poll found that 59% of Americans surveyed think that attempting and failing to obstruct justice is as bad as obstructing justice itself.

To approach the question of whether an unsuccessful attempt was just as bad as the actual execution of obstructing justice, respondents were asked to rate the severity of those crimes across two questions:

  1. For a public official, how serious an offence is obstruction of justice? Please answer on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being “not warranting any action” and 10 being “warranting prosecution and removal from office.”
  2. For a public official, how serious an offence is attempting but failing to obstruct justice? Please answer on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being “not warranting any action” and 10 being “warranting prosecution and removal from office.”

In general, the 1,023 respondents who answered both questions on average rated the first offence a 7.6 out of 10 and the second (attempted and unsuccessful) offence a 6.9 out of 10. And while it’s interesting to gauge the comparative severity of those actions, what we were truly interested in was, for a given respondent, is there a difference?

For a significant majority, the answer is no. Only 36% of respondents provided a lower number for the attempted and unsuccessful obstruction of justice than actual obstruction of justice, and 64% gave a figure as high or higher.

More specifically, 55% gave the exact same score and 10% numerically indicated that trying and failing was in fact worse than simply doing it. Of the 36% who think simply attempting to obstruct justice is not as severe as actual obstruction, most thought it was only slightly better: 24% assigned a score just 1 or 2 points lower for attempting and failing.

The Mueller report listed 11 separate instances the special counsel examined for possible obstruction by Trump. Those include his firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, his attempts to fire the special counsel who was appointed after Comey’s dismissal, and signalling that he would be opening to pardoning Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen.

Mueller’s report listed numerous occasions during which Trump aides refused to carry out of the president’s requests to interfere in ongoing investigations. They included

  • James Comey refusing to drop the FBI’s investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
  • Former White House counsel Don McGahn not carrying out Trump’s request of him to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
  • Former campaign advisers Corey Lewandowski and Rick Dearborn declining to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the Russia probe to future election interference.
  • McGahn also refusing to publicly deny The New York Times’ reporting that he got in the way of Trump’s efforts to fire Mueller and even threatened to resign.

The report said, however, that the office could not come to a “traditional prosecutorial decision” as to whether Trump obstructed justice, citing “difficult issues of law in fact,” including that some of the president’s conduct – like firing Comey – is permitted under his constitutional authority and prevailing DOJ policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report said. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,110 respondents collected from the evening of April 18 through April 19, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points with a 95% confidence level

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