After nearly two years of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s “Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” Americans on both sides of the political divide were hoping, for different reasons, the fight would finally be over.
President Donald J. Trump had attacked the investigation as a “witch hunt” and his supporters hoped the 400-page report would prove him right: there was “no collusion” with Russia.
Opponents of the President trusted that, if anyone could discover the facts, it was Mueller and the facts, they were convinced, would implicate the Trump campaign and perhaps even the President himself.
A new poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal finds 29% of Americans say they believe President Trump has been cleared of wrongdoing and 40% say he has not. But, significantly, one-third of Americans (31%) say they’re not sure about it.
And, so far, there’s no sign the Mueller report will end the division that now plagues American political life.
One reason: Americans have yet not seen Mueller’s full report. It is being “redacted” -edited - to remove any sensitive information, for example, intelligence sources and methods that should not be publicly released. Attorney General William P. Barr promises that “everyone will soon be able to read it on their own” and expects to publicly release it by mid-April.
For now, Americans must rely on the Attorney General’s 4-page summary of Mueller’s conclusions and each side is interpreting those conclusions in its own way.
But on the second question Mueller investigated – whether the President or his campaign tried to “obstruct justice” and interfere with the investigation – the Attorney General said Mueller “did not draw a conclusion - one way or the other.” The report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime,” but, he added, “it also does not exonerate him." Mueller, according to Barr, did not uncover enough evidence to recommend charges of obstruction and left the decision to Barr. Barr, in turn, said he didn’t find grounds for charging President Trump.
Democrats say that unusual legal decision by Mueller is proof that the full Mueller report must be released and, according to a recent poll, 83% of Americans think it should be publicly released. In the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, voted 420-to-0 for release of the full report.
But Trump is still faces a separate series of federal and state investigations of his campaign and business dealings. The U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York is investigating donations to Trump’s election campaign. The Justice Department is examining the role the Trump Organization played in “hush money” payments to women who claim Mr. Trump conducted extra-marital affairs with them, something the president denies. Democrats now control the House of Representatives and congressional investigations continue, with more hearings expected.
But a new Washington Post-Schar School national poll shows Americans are split over whether House Democrats should continue those investigations - even though, according to another new poll by the Pew Research Center, most Americans who have heard allegations against the President think it’s at least probable that he has acted illegally or unethically.
Even without the final Mueller report in hand, Trump’s supporters share his boast of “total exoneration,” (a claim the report does not make.) The issue, at least theoretically, could boost his electoral chances for 2020 although, in the volatile atmosphere of American politics, predictions are hard to make. Currently, 43% of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as President; 53% disapprove.
The end of the Mueller investigation is not likely to improve relations with Russia. The Russian government was not exonerated of charges that it tried to interfere in the 2016 election, in fact, many of those indicted by Mueller were Russians.
The bottom line: Mueller’s criminal investigation may be over, but the controversy over it shows no sign of stopping.