The first glimpse into the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election did little to mend a gaping American political divide.
The four-page summary of Robert Mueller’s probe released by Attorney General William Barr didn’t satisfy many who wanted more details. But in a bitterly divided country, the little bit that was known stirred cheers from many Republicans and scoffs from many Democrats.
“The one side that’s happy is happy. And the other side that’s not happy wants to do some more investigation or do something else,” said Stephen Turner, an electrical engineer from Belmont, North Carolina, who is Republican and voted for Trump. “I wish it’d just go away.”
Across the union, the split reaction to the Mueller news repeated.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, along the route Trump’s motorcade took before returning to Washington on Air Force One, Mary Jude Smith got a wave and a smile from the chief executive. The 71-year-old retiree from Hypoluxo, Florida, speaks about him with passion and insists he has been exonerated. She sees the investigation as Democrats’ pathetic attempt to impeach Trump.
“I think Mueller was a crook. He wasted millions of our tax dollars for nothing,” she said, before offering her assessment of Trump: “He’s as clean as the driven snow.”
In blue-state New York, 49-year-old filmmaker Dan Lee of Brooklyn Heights felt let down by Mueller and left with more questions than answers.
“It stings a little, because I trusted Mueller,” said Lee, a Democrat. “There are still so many questions and it seems inconceivable that obstruction isn’t one of the conclusions.”
In red-state West Virginia, 44-year-old truck driver Michael Tucker of Bancroft, declared the Russian investigation “a joke, for the most part” and that Trump has been treated unfairly.
“It’s one witch hunt after another,” said Tucker, who gave his vote to Trump in 2016 and likely will again next year. “If they could have found anything, they would have.”
There were morsels in Barr’s letter both sides could savor. For Republicans, it was acknowledgement that there was no evidence Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia. For Democrats, it was the admission that while Trump wasn’t charged with obstruction, he also wasn’t exonerated.
Trump supporter Richard C. Osburn, 52, a nurse from South Charleston, West Virginia, said Mueller’s findings were proof the president was “drug through the mud.” He knows Democrats are “hell-bent” on destroying Trump, but says it’s time for the president to be given a break.
“The things that the man’s doing to try to help the average worker in this country never gets recognized by the mainstream media,” said Osburn, a longtime Republican. “They would rather hate, hate, hate than recognize accomplishments. Those days have got to stop.”
In Los Angeles, 57-year-old accountant Sue Arani, checked news on her phone as she took her dog for an afternoon walk Sunday. She calls herself a Republican-leaning voter, though she gave her support to Clinton in 2016. She trusts Mueller, but even with Barr’s release, she thinks there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
“The public needs to see the report,” she said, “especially before the next election.”
Claire Finkelstein, a University of Pennsylvania professor who founded the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, said if the full report isn’t made available to the public and its contents become known only through leaks and back channels, it would be damaging to faith in the government.
“Secrets are where conspiracy theories fester and grow,” Finkelstein said. “The only way that we are going to be able to move past this state of affairs is by as much coming out into the light as possible. Let’s flesh out the facts, let’s get them on the table and have a robust conversation.”
What seemed certain was there would be no end to the debate over Trump, Mueller’s investigation, and the political divide across the U.S.
In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 74-year-old Richard Howell, a supporter of the president, said news of the Mueller report proves what critics of the investigation have been saying all along.
“So we spent two years and millions of dollars,” he said, “worrying about nothing.”
In Gaston County, North Carolina, Trump voters outnumbered Clinton backers nearly two-to-one in 2016, but Joy Owens didn’t budge from her opposition. She believes Mueller has done a good job with the investigation but she’s left feeling unfulfilled.
“I keep hoping that if we just be patient, we be patient for a little bit longer, that there will be justice,” said Owens, 66, who recently retired from running a yarn shop and framing business. “I cannot believe of all the other convictions that are happening about this that Trump is going to be scot-free on this.”