Reuters polled daily during 1 January 2019 through 19 February 2019 on “View of Robert Mueller”, and found that his favorability peaked on January 21st at 53.1% to 46.9% unfavorable (a +6.4% spread), and that it plunged steadily throughout the next week, to a score on January 28th of 47.1% favorable to 52.8% unfavorable (a -4.6% spread), where it virtually flatlined, so that by the end of the daily surveys, on February 19th, it was 48.3% favorable to 51.7% unfavorable (a -3.4% spread). What caused these changes?
According to the (pro-Mueller) Axios “Timeline: Every big move in the Mueller investigation”, the only “big move”s during that interval were:
Jan. 25: Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate, was arrested following an indictment in the Mueller investigation.
Feb. 15: Mueller’s team recommended that Manafort should serve between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in a court filing.
However, the plunge had already started prior to January 25th: the first poll after the January 21st peak was January 22nd and it showed 51.5% favorable and 48.5% unfavorable. That went from a +6.2% peak spread on January 21st down to a +3% spread in just 24 hours. On January 23rd that turned into 50.6% favorable to 49.4% unfavorable, now a +1.2% spread. January 24th was a +0.6% spread, and January 25th was a +0.4% spread. January 26th was a -1.0% spread, and January 27th was a -3.6% spread, were it flatlined. By the time of February 19th, it was a -3.4% spread. On February 15th — when Mueller’s Manafort-sentence recommendation was issued — the spread was -4.6%, and it was and stayed within the post-Jan.-28th flatline band.
So: Axios’s timeline doesn’t coordinate in any obvious way with the Reuters-surveyed polling-result changes on Mueller.
Politifact’s “The Russia investigation and Donald Trump: a timeline from on-the-record sources” shows the following during this interval:
Jan. 8, 2019: Manafort’s lawyers submit a court filing denying that Manafort breached his plea deal, as the special counsel’s office alleged. The filing inadvertently revealed that Manafort shared 2016 election polling data with his business partner Kilimnik, whom Mueller had previously charged with of obstruction of justice.
Jan. 18, 2019: The special counsel denied a BuzzFeed News report which claimed that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. In a rare public comment, a spokesman for Mueller said, “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”
Jan. 23, 2019: Cohen, in a statement from his lawyer, announced he would not voluntarily testify before the House Oversight Committee in coming weeks, as he had planned. Cohen cited “ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. (Rudolph) Giuliani” as among the reasons for the reversal. The following day, the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed him; he is slated to testify Feb. 12.
Jan. 24, 2019: The FBI arrests Trump’s longtime friend and associate Stone. He is charged with seven felonies, including lying to Congress under oath, witness tampering and obstruction. The indictment lays out a pattern of behavior that gives the strong impression Stone tried to conceal his contacts with WikiLeaks.
Jan. 27, 2019: The Trump administration lifted sanctions on three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, over objections from Democratic lawmakers, who were joined by some Republicans. Experts said sanctions relief wasn’t a demonstration of Trump’s coziness with Russian oligarchs, so much as it was his administration’s way of ending the disruption it inflicted on the global metals market when it sanctioned Deripaska’s aluminum company Rusal. (Read our full report [“Trump wants to lift sanctions related to a Russian oligarch. Here’s why.”].)
The January 27th event immediately preceded the flatline, which started January 28th, and it conceivably might have stopped Mueller’s decline in favorability-rating.
The first uptick in Mueller’s favorability reversed his one-week plunge, and occurred on January 29th, which was just two days after Trump had reversed and reduced some of his anti-Russia sanctions. There’s no clear-cut likely connection between Trump’s softening against Russia, and the uptick in the public’s approval of Mueller, but maybe the public thought that Trump’s reducing anti-Russia sanctions was bad and that therefore Mueller, as the prosecutor against Russia, needed to continue doing whatever he was doing, so that Trump would be less likely to soften his stand against Russia again. Much polling does show that Americans have been becoming more hostile toward Russia recently, not less hostile.
ABC’s “The Russia probe: A timeline from Moscow to Mueller” includes only the January 25th event, Stone’s arrest.
Wikipedia has the most-detailed timeline: “Timeline of investigations into Trump and Russia (2019)”. Let’s consider the Reuters polling’s two major turning-points: Jan. 21 and Jan. 28. The only significant entry at Wikipedia is this on Jan. 28:
• Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announces that the Special Counsel investigation is “close to being completed”.
• Stone pleads not guilty in DC courtroom.
• Judge T. S. Ellis of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia postpones Manafort’s February 8 sentencing date to an unspecified date, pending resolution of a dispute in his separate case before the DC District Court..
And that’s when Mueller’s big slide ended, and public sentiment on him flatlined. Perhaps the January 27th event (which Democrats in Congress railed against) caused some people to think that Trump could actually be a Russian agent, after all, and the January 28th announcement that Mueller’s investigation was “close to being completed” reinforced an improvement in Mueller’s public image by causing some to think that Mueller wasn’t moving too slowly, after all.
Nothing is shown in any of the timelines that reasonably could be interpreted as causing Mueller’s performance-ratings suddenly to plunge as they did starting on January 21st. The one-week plunge is, at present, a total mystery.
For whatever reason(s), Mueller’s steep one-week slide did end on January 28th and became replaced by a moderately poor public favorability rating that stayed where it was, so that Mueller’s probe will probably be facing a highly skeptical public, as he presents his conclusions. Already, on 23 February 2019, Chad Day and Eric Tucker of AP had scoured through all of the Special Counsel’s court filings, and summarized what Mueller is actually accusing against Russia’s Government, in their 3,276-word narrative, “Court records reveal a Mueller report right in plain view”. The core of those very allegations had been scientifically disproven just ten days earlier, on 13 February 2019, in the 2,275-word technical analysis by William Binney and Larry Johnson, “WHY THE DNC WAS NOT HACKED BY THE RUSSIANS”. So both Mueller’s accusations and a nonpartisan technical analysis disproving the core of those accusations, can readily be viewed, regardless of whether these matters ever do finally face jury trials — not mere grand juries but real trials, none of which have yet started, if they ever will.
On March 4th, the official Mueller Report was posted for sale at Amazon, both from Skyhorse Publishing Company in a 960-page edition, and from Scribner in a 720-page edition, both of which have a publication-date of “March 26, 2019.”
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.