WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's trip to the Middle East and Europe allowed him to escape the political turmoil in Washington for a time, but bad poll numbers seem to follow him no matter where he goes.
A new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that 54 percent of those surveyed thought Trump was abusing the powers of his office. Forty-three percent disagreed. Trump's public approval rating stood at 37 percent, with 55 percent disapproving.
The poll was the latest in a series of recent surveys that have shown the president's approval rating below 40 percent, at least in part due to clamor over the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during last year's U.S. election.
"Trump remains mired in dreadful mid-30s approval numbers," said Tim Malloy of Quinnipiac in a statement that accompanied the poll. Malloy also noted that voters of retirement age were deserting Trump and that "by far, the most alarming determination is that President Trump is abusing his office."
Four months into his presidency, Trump is trying to avoid the fate of predecessors who saw their administrations consumed by scandals and controversies. He has dismissed the Russia probe now led by special counsel Robert Mueller as a "witch hunt," but a number of congressional Republicans fear the disruption sparked by Trump's firing of James Comey as FBI director could weigh on the administration for a long time, possibly sidelining much of his ambitious agenda.
Trump's political difficulties have brought to mind past presidential scandals, including Watergate, the epic unraveling of Richard Nixon's presidency over a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters and subsequent White House cover-up.
Twelve years later, it was Ronald Reagan whose presidency was nearly derailed over the Iran-Contra affair. Reagan aides hatched a scheme to sell arms to Iran to buy the release of American hostages and then funnel the proceeds of the arms sales to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Reagan grudgingly acknowledged the truth in an address to the American people in March 1987: "A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that is true; but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."
In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from an extramarital affair and testimony about it given as part of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by another woman. Clinton survived when the Senate acquitted him.
In Trump's case, legal analysts said proof of collusion with Russia would be damaging. "What is being discussed here and what is being investigated here are acts that are so serious and so core to our democratic process that they probably even go beyond Watergate," said George Washington University law professor Paul Schiff Berman.
Berman added that it was crucial that the investigation into Trump's White House be as credible as possible. "If this country is going to continue to be a rule-of-law-abiding country, it is absolutely essential that this investigation be seen as not a partisan matter," he said.
The consequences of the Mueller investigation may not be known for some time. "We do have presidents, certainly in the past like President Reagan and President Clinton, who had independent investigators on very serious matters against them," said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. "Bill Clinton was impeached ultimately and survived that. So I think it is a little too early to say that we are going to go all the way down that road" with Trump.
Given the Mueller probe and inquiries in both the Senate and House of Representatives, the Trump White House may find himself on the defensive for some time to come.