Utahns support the special counsel’s probe of Russia and Trump, but there’s a big partisan divide

FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting in Washington. Prosecutors working for Mueller are recommending a short prison sentence for a former Trump campaign adviser who lied to the FBI during the Russia probe. Mueller’s team says in a new court filing that George Papadopoulos should spend at least some time incarcerated and pay a nearly $10,000 fine. His recommended sentence under federal guidelines is zero to six months, but prosecutors note a similar defendant in the case spent 30 days in jail.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Washington • Utahns back the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump’s team played any role, but it’s clear that the state’s Democrats and independents are more supportive than Republicans, a new poll shows.

Some 53 percent of Utahns support Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe, which has indicted or won guilty pleas from three companies and 30 individuals, including the president’s former campaign manager and national security adviser.

The Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that 39 percent of Utahns surveyed oppose the investigation, which has cast a wide net looking at whether Trump or his aides colluded with the Russians to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

Unsurprisingly, the poll shows Democrats support the investigation (93 percent) as do unaffiliated voters (63 percent) while Republicans are against Mueller’s work (58 percent).

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Mueller’s team has gone relatively silent ahead of the midterm elections, though Bloomberg reported that the special counsel is expected to issue his findings soon after Election Day. Specifically, the report said, the findings will address whether there was any clear collusion by Trump or his aides with Russia and whether the president obstructed justice in firing FBI Director James Comey to halt a probe of national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Mueller’s findings, though, may not be made public. They will go to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who will decide whether to share them with Congress.

Republicans and Trump have long argued that the more-than-yearlong investigation should come to a close soon, though polls — including this one of Utah voters — show continued support for Mueller’s work.

About six in 10 Americans said the Russian investigation is serious and should go full speed ahead, according to a CNN poll this month that also found a third of Americans consider Mueller’s effort a way to discredit Trump. Those numbers have held steady in recent months, CNN said. (The same poll found 48 percent of Americans approve of Mueller while 33 percent approved of Trump.)

Trump has slammed the investigation as a “witch hunt” and politically motivated by Democrats upset they lost the presidential election.

Separate from the special counsel’s investigation, a Department of Justice criminal complaint unsealed Friday charged a Russian woman with “information warfare” aimed at undermining the U.S. political system in general, including Mueller’s probe. The complaint cited one story, headlined “The 8 dirtiest scandals of Robert Mueller no one is talking about," being spread on social media to show that the special counsel’s work was "damaging to the country and is aimed to declare impeachment of Trump.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican and member of the House Intelligence Committee, says he’s not surprised to see Utahns support Mueller’s investigation.

“I’ve always said that I supported it, and I’ve told the president that I supported it and that the best approach the White House could take is to just let it play out,” Stewart said in an interview. “I think that’s true and most Utahns feel that way — just let him complete his work. And if we don’t, then there will always be the narrative that there might be unanswered questions.”

Trump has downplayed Russia’s interference in the election and repeatedly said after guilty pleas in the investigation that the special counsel hasn’t found any link between his team and Russia. Onetime Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted and pleaded guilty to financial crimes and Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser, pleaded to making false statements to the FBI.

The president told CBS News' Lesley Stahl that he believed “China meddled” in the election and that he wouldn't rule out restricting the Mueller probe.

Stewart, who agrees with U.S. intelligence findings that Russia tried to undermine the 2016 election but doesn’t believe it was aimed at helping Trump, said the best approach is to let the investigation go forward but that he hopes it ends soon.

“It’s important for America to feel like every question was asked, that the information necessary was given,” Stewart said. “My view as a Republican is that it’s better for the president for the investigation to be completed and to not ever feel like it’s been short-circuited. At the same time, I’ve always said I hope Mr. Mueller does this as quickly as possible, to be fair to those people under investigation and to be fair to the American people who are waiting for answers.”

Stewart says all indications he sees are that Mueller is wrapping up the probe — confirming Bloomberg’s reporting.

Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who led the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he disagrees with the “original premise” of the special counsel’s appointment, arguing there needs to be an underlying crime to justify such a move.

That said, Chaffetz is among those Utahns who support the probe — as long as it ends soon.

“It should play out and we should learn what Mueller was able to find,” Chaffetz, now a Fox News contributor, said. “I think there’s growing evidence that there’s nothing there, but it’d be nice to have Director Mueller tell us that.”

Mueller is a former director of the FBI.

The Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll surveyed 607 registered Utah voters from Oct. 3-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.