Liz Peek: Democrats should tread carefully -- Americans may sour on investigations into Trump

“So Donald Trump’s private business, campaign, transition, inaugural committee and White House are all under criminal investigation. Very legal and very cool.”

That’s a tweet from Mathew Miller, MSNBC Justice and Security analyst celebrating the exploding number of investigations into President Trump. He thinks it’s all “very cool.”

Do most Americans think that the endless spread of the Mueller investigation is cool? Or are they increasingly concerned that our Justice Department has become an engine of political retribution, guided by people with a left-wing bias and impervious to oversight by our elected officials?

One answer comes from a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, which reveals that for the first time ever, Americans have a higher negative than positive impression of Robert Mueller. Only 29 percent of the country, down from 33 percent in July, have a favorable impression of the Special Counsel while 33 percent have an unfavorable view of him. By contrast, 42 percent of the respondents to that poll approve of Trump.

Are Americans also thrilled that the incoming Congress appears more intent on bringing down a duly elected president than solving the concerns of the nation? The NPR poll shows “19% of Americans believe the top priority for the next Congress should be the economy and jobs, 17% say immigration, 16% say healthcare, and 10% say federal taxes and spending.” Nothing about impeaching the president.

Most Americans are too busy working and caring for their families to keep up with the day-to-day charges and counter-charges underlying the numerous Trump accusations. There are, of course those on the left like Mathew Miller, who hate Donald Trump, and who steep themselves in the ongoing saga as others might follow pro football.

But occasionally there are revelations about the probes that attract attention from a different group – Trump supporters who have largely tuned out, confident there was no collusion between Russia and the president’s campaign and optimistic the investigation will play out fairly.

Just recently, that expectation of fairness has been sorely tested. Kim Strassel has described in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed an aspect of the Mueller probe that reveals the political underbelly of this nearly two-year drama.  Thanks to Emmet Sullivan, the sentencing judge for General Michael Flynn, we now know how the FBI caught Trump’s former national security chief in a lie.

The Mueller investigation, increasingly tainted by such reports, will eventually end. But there are numerous other legal battles ahead.

Documents demanded by the judge show that Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe convinced the general to sit down casually to supposedly discuss other matters, encouraged him to not bring a lawyer, did not indicate he was under investigation, and did not reveal they had taped his earlier conversation with the Russian ambassador. One of the agents who interviewed Flynn was Peter Strzok, who famously sought an “insurance policy” in case Trump won the election and who has since been fired.

Disgraced former FBI head James Comey told MSNBC in an interview that he would never have “gotten away” with the set-up of Flynn in a more “organized” White House.

The revelations have caused a furor, with many repulsed by the duplicitous behavior of the FBI towards a highly decorated member of our military and outraged that the underhanded tactics succeeded in bringing down a member of the administration.

The anger elicited an unusual rebuttal, “Mueller Rejects Claim that Flynn Was Duped,” from the New York Times, which has largely ignored GOP concerns about FBI bias. It also generated a statement from the Special Counsel’s office, which has generally been as communicative as obsidian. The Times derides the “unfounded theory” that Flynn did not know he was being formally investigated. Mueller’s team denied engaging in what some have called entrapment, but the FBI agents both "had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying."

Also recently, there has emerged evidence that someone in Mueller’s office wiped clean the phones used by notorious former FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strozk, before their phones were handed over to the Office of the Inspector General for review. This seems another affront to those wanting to believe in the impartiality of our Justice Department.

The Mueller investigation, increasingly tainted by such reports, will eventually end. But there are numerous other legal battles ahead. President Trump may face charges that he violated campaign contribution laws (along with his “fixer” Michael Cohen) in paying off with his own money Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, an accusation that strikes many as weak. After all, President Obama settled charges of campaign violations in 2013 by paying one of the largest-ever fees to the FEC. No one considered the missteps an impeachable offense. Also, it is hard to prove that Trump did not make the payments to secure his own marriage, as opposed to influence voters.

Equally questionable is a new investigation by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office into the Trump inaugural committee. They want to see whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money to the inauguration in order to get access to the Trump White House or to influence the president on issues. Well, yes, that’s why people make political contributions; have these folks heard of the Clintons?

All Americans, regardless of their politics, should worry that the legal lightning storms over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are depressing the spirits so successfully revived by the Trump administration. Consumer sentiment soared after the 2016 election; though still elevated, it has ticked down in recent weeks as Trump’s legal battles have multiplied and as Democrats promise more of the same.

Mathew Miller may consider that a price worth paying to see President Trump hamstrung and humiliated. Most Americans, enjoying rising wages and strong job growth, will disagree; they will get to vent their displeasure in 2020. And they will, by reelecting Donald Trump.

Correction: The original version of this column incorrectly identified Matthew Miller as a former lobbyist for power company PG&E and legislative assistant for Dianne Feinstein.