Russia investigation just got a whole lot more real for President Trump
President Donald Trump labeled the investigation of alleged ties between Russia and his 2016 campaign a "witch hunt" twice on Thursday.
The American people don't agree, and now we've learned that federal enforcement definitely doesn't agree. Indeed, if Trump is the "witch," the hunt just got closer to the witch again.
The Washington Post is reporting that the investigation, which was placed under the guidance of special prosecutor and former FBI director Robert Mueller on Wednesday, is now probing a "senior White House adviser" who is "close to the president."
The news suggests that this is not simply a broad look at possible misdealing by some of the many underlings and former aides in Trump's orbit of associates, but that it's getting pretty close to the president of the United States himself. An investigation that once seemed as though it could be focused on any number of the people around him who have been linked to Russia (Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, etc.) now seems to be getting specific. And given Flynn, Manafort and Page aren't in the White House, this is about someone else - someone of significant stature who has worked closely with Trump as president.
The Post's report also indicates the investigation is getting more serious - a direction in which it's been trending for a while. First there was then-FBI Director James Comey's announcement in March that the probe was focusing not just generally on Russian hacking but on alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign; now we learn it's pointing more toward the top.
We still don't know what will come of this, and it's worth emphasizing that there is still no publicly available evidence of actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Even Democrats are urging caution when it comes to drawing conclusions, recognizing the folly of over-playing their hand and having this all turn out, in the end, to look like precisely the witch hunt Trump says it is. The same goes for the news media covering the juiciest of stories.
But at the very least, it's getting tougher and tougher for Trump to make the claim that this is a complete nothing-burger, conjured from nothing more than Democrats' hard feelings about losing the 2016 election - which Trump argued Thursday. (That argument makes very little sense, by the way, given Comey has said the FBI launched the probe in July 2016, well before Democrats lost the election.)
And it's not just what investigators are doing; it's what the American people are saying. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday showed 73 percent of Americans think the investigation should continue. Just 24 percent thought it should be shut down. Even 50 percent of Republicans said it should continue.
And a few weeks ago, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 7 in 10 Americans were either "very" (46 percent) or "somewhat" (24 percent) concerned about Trump's relationship with Russia. That number has risen from 6 in 10 back in March. Forty percent of Republicans were at least somewhat concerned in the new poll.
Trump is no stranger to damaging his own credibility with wild, counter-factual, conspiratorial claims about any number of topics. And he certainly has an interest in downplaying an investigation that includes him, the president of the United States.
But Trump's ongoing claim that this is a witch hunt just isn't borne out by what we know of the investigation, and the American people and even lots of Republicans are convinced of that.
At this point, Trump would be far better served offering a real defense of himself rather than tying all of this to some deep-state conspiracy to make him look bad. This has gotten far beyond that.