Donald Trump’s approval rating has plunged in a national poll, published on Sunday that charts Americans’ perceptions of a stalling domestic policy agenda and declining leadership on the world stage.
Though the president is fiercely loyal to his children, some observers wonder if deepening and dangerous controversy might test such bonds to breaking point
The Washington Post/ABC News poll, which put Trump’s six-month approval rating at a historic 70-year low, came amid mounting controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 election.
It emerged on Saturday that Trump’s campaign committee made a payment to the legal firm representing the president’s eldest son almost two weeks before a meeting between Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer promising compromising information on Hillary Clinton was made public.
Trump now has a 36% approval rating, down six points from his first 100 days’ rating. The poll found that 48% believed America’s leadership in the world is weaker than before the billionaire took office, while support for Republican plans to replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was at just 24% compared with 50% who support the former president’s signature healthcare policy.
Trump, who has spent the weekend at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, attempted to downplay the poll’s findings. On Sunday morning he used Twitter to claim, incorrectly, that “almost 40% [approval] is not bad at this time” and that the poll in question had been “just about the most inaccurate around election time!”.
In fact, the Washington Post/ABC poll came close to predicting the popular vote on election day – which Hillary Clinton won by 2.5m ballots, Trump taking the White House in the electoral college – and no president has suffered such low ratings at this early stage in their tenure since such polling began in 1945.
The poll also found that 63% of people thought the June 2016 meeting between senior members of Trump’s inner circle, including Donald Trump Jr and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a group of Russians including the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, was inappropriate.
On Saturday, a campaign finance report filed to the Federal Election Commission revealed that Trump’s campaign committee had paid $50,000 to Trump Jr’s lawyer Alan Futerfas on 27 June, 13 days before the New York Times revealed the meeting had taken place.
Trump himself told reporters on Wednesday he had only been made aware of the 2016 meeting, which occurred in Trump Tower, “two or three days ago” – raising the prospect that his campaign committee could have known about the contact before the president did.
On Sunday, Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow appeared on all five TV political talk shows to offer a spurious defense of the meeting. Sekulow appeared to blame secret service officers for allowing the Russians into Trump Tower.
“I wonder why the secret service – if this was nefarious – why the secret service allowed these people in?” he told ABC News. “The president had secret service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”
A spokesman for the secret service later confirmed that Trump Jr was not under the agency’s protection at the time of the meeting and “thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with”.
Under pressure from the New York Times, Trump Jr this week released damning emails revealing he eagerly embraced what he was told was a Russian government attempt to damage the Clinton campaign.
The emails show music promoter Rob Goldstone telling the future president’s son that “the crown prosecutor of Russia” had offered “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father”.
The New York Times reported that Trump signed off on his son’s first statement to the Times about the meeting, which like subsequent statements was soon revealed not to be a full account of events.
Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting. It was revealed on Friday that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer, was present as well.
Earlier on Sunday morning, Trump tweeted more outspoken support for his eldest son.
“Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?” the president wrote.
Trump has previously described the political storm over his son’s meeting as “the greatest witch-hunt in political history” and “sad!” and said anyone would have taken the meeting as offered.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Thursday, the president said 39-year-old Donald Jr was “a good boy” and added: “And he had a meeting, nothing happened with the meeting. It was a short meeting, as he told me – because I only heard about it two or three days ago.”
The Trump campaign committee’s finance filing also shows it paid $89,000 to the Trump Corporation, which is led by Donald Trump Jr and his brother Eric, for “legal consulting”.
It was announced on Saturday that Trump had hired Washington attorney Ty Cobb to serve as his special counsel regarding the Russia investigations being run by the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees and special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director appointed after Trump fired his successor James Comey in May.
The move seemingly reflects the president’s growing acceptance that the investigations will linger over his tenure for months or even years.
On Sunday morning, he also tweeted: “Thank you to all of the supporters, who far out-numbered the protesters, yesterday at the Women’s US Open. Very cool!”
The golfing event Trump referred to took place at his club where, according to reports, members pay up to $100,000 in joining fees.