Lindström, Minn. – President Donald Trump’s bitter, public feud with the nation’s top law enforcement agencies is once again compelling Minnesotans to choose sides in a controversy swirling around the White House.
Here in Chisago County, a largely rural stretch of prairie about a half-hour north of the Twin Cities that went heavily for Trump in 2016, the president’s sharp verbal attacks on leaders of the Department of Justice and the FBI — agencies he once praised — has even his strongest supporters wishing he’d tone it down a bit.
“Do I like everything he’s doing? No,” said Bill Krebs, the owner of auto repair shops in Lindström and Columbus and a member of the Columbus City Council. “I wish he’d dial back the tweets a little.
“But I’ve seen nothing to indicate that he’s against law enforcement,” added Krebs, a Trump voter whose two sons and a daughter-in-law are U.S. Marines. “How is he against the FBI if he releases some documentation showing Hillary was playing around with the FBI? We gotta give Trump a chance.”
But Luke Cannon, a retail manager in the city of Wyoming, isn’t willing to cut the president as much slack.
“It seems like the Republicans are the law-and-order party until the FBI starts investigating them,” said Cannon, who didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election. “They were all about the FBI investigating Hillary. I think the attacks on the FBI are politically motivated to protect the Republican Party.”
Trump’s ongoing campaign against the FBI and the Department of Justice is rare for a U.S. president. Never before has the nation’s chief executive challenged its top law enforcement agencies and leaders quite like this.
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and has threatened to fire other top agency officials. He has also bluntly claimed that they have a bias against him and Republicans as the agency investigates whether his campaign collaborated with Russia during the 2016 election and whether Trump obstructed justice in his first year in office.
He’s called the actions of both the FBI and DOJ “disgraceful,” and has alleged that there is a conspiracy to discredit him and undercut his presidency.
Trump tempered his criticism earlier this month, tweeting that “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans — something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!”
While Trump’s stance and harsh words have divided the overall electorate, they are resonating with many GOP voters, recent polling shows.
A national poll of more than 1,300 U.S. voters released last week by Quinnipiac University found that 53 percent of Republicans who responded disapproved of the way the FBI is doing its job, with just 28 percent approving. Meanwhile, 84 percent of Republicans responding said they “can trust President Trump to do what is right.”
Likewise, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll last month showed that Minnesota Republicans remain strongly on the president’s side. Among Republicans responding, 77 percent said they believed Trump’s campaign did not engage in improper coordination with Russian agents, while 63 percent said they felt Mueller’s investigation has been unfair.
The broader electorate, meanwhile, is more critical of the president and supportive of the agencies.
The Quinnipiac poll found that 53 percent of the respondents believe Trump has attempted to “derail or obstruct” the Russia investigation, while 41 percent disagreed. In the same poll, 48 percent of the respondents said they approved of the way the FBI is handling the probe, with 36 percent disapproving.
The Star Tribune poll found much the same, with 51 percent of respondents believing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Russia affair has been fair, while 33 percent said it was unfair. Minnesotans overall were evenly divided on whether they believed Trump’s campaign engaged in improper coordination with Russian agents, with 44 percent saying no improper acts occurred and 43 percent saying they did.
Chisago County is a “collar county” that borders Twin Cities suburbs to the south and the St. Croix River to the east. In November 2016, it was solid Trump territory, with 62 percent of voters casting ballots for the Republican candidate.
In interviews last week with nearly two dozen residents in a half dozen small towns along Hwy. 8 on the county’s south end, most expressed strong opinions on Trump’s battle with the DOJ and FBI.
Shannon Schoeberl, a shipping company manager from Chisago City, acknowledged that there might be some truth to allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
“Is there something to it? Probably something,” he said.
Schoeberl, who voted for Trump, also believes there are “major biases” against the president in law enforcement circles, and he’s ready for the whole affair to be over.
“I think they should put their money to more viable endeavors,” he said.
Arlo Sanvick, who owns a title company in Chisago City, said Trump’s attacks on the FBI are destructive — and suspicious.
“He doesn’t want people to believe what the FBI’s going to come up with,” said Sanvick, who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. “If he hadn’t done anything, he’d say, ‘Go ahead — do your business.’ ”
Marty Ziegler, owner of a Lindström butcher shop, said he “doesn’t really know what to think about it, to be honest.” But he does know that the controversy is keeping elected representatives from carrying out the nation’s business.
“I believe that everybody in Washington should put their heads together, solve the problems and do their job,” said Ziegler, a U.S. resident for 30 years who can’t vote because he’s still a German citizen. “It doesn’t make a difference if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. The partisanship has to stop at some point, and the public has to be first.”
Business vs. government
Milt Lesmann, a Clinton voter, lays all the blame on Trump.
“What it boils down to is, you’ve got one guy that knows absolutely nothing about the country,” said Lesmann, who runs an auto body and paint shop in rural Chisago City. “He’s got no government sense.”
That’s because Trump comes from the business world, said Mark Kropidlowski, who said he appreciates the way Trump speaks his mind.
“I think you know he will attack anyone,” Kropidlowski said, sipping a beer at the Goat Saloon in Taylors Falls. “Anyone in life, when you’re cornered, you lash out. He says things because it detracts from his own inadequacies.”
As the owner of a business that cleans up crime scenes, Kropidlowski works daily with every level of law enforcement, from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration to county sheriffs and local police. He said he’s never questioned the integrity of any of the law enforcement people he’s worked with.
Yet he continues to support Trump.
Kropidlowski doesn’t vote, but said, if he did, “I would definitely have voted for Trump.”
Still, some here are steering clear of the topic altogether.
“One thing I’ve learned in this business,” said Garrett Angell, owner of Smitty’s, a Chisago City tavern, “there are three things you don’t talk about in a bar.”
Religion and money are two of them, he said.
The other? “Politics.”