By Letitia Stein and Tim Reid
CLEARWATER, Florida/LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – After months as volunteer activists demanding that U.S. President Donald Trump be impeached, Eileen and Michael O’Brien sat on their couch on Thursday, cracked open a laptop and began to read the 448-page special counsel report that liberals have dreamed would make impeachment a reality.
“Hmm, seems like there’s a lot of gray area here,” said Eileen O’Brien, 65, of Clearwater, Florida, reading aloud a line about the findings falling short of a criminal case. “Legally wrong and morally wrong are two different things.”
The release of the long-anticipated report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election landed in a stridently divided America: one side convinced Trump acted improperly, the other adamant that the investigation was a politically driven farce.
Mueller built an extensive case that Trump committed obstruction of justice but stopped short of concluding he had committed a crime, though he did not exonerate the president.
For those like the O’Briens who have been pining for impeachment, the report renewed resolve to oust the president. For those who want to see the president reelected, there was a sense of vindication.
“The White House is going to put out their own version of things, which is basically fish wrapper,” said Michael O’Brien, formerly a service technician who now works on houses. His wife, who a day earlier delivered a can of “impeaches” peaches to a lawmaker, looked up with a quizzical expression.
“It’s worthless,” he explained. “You can use it to wrap fish.”
“ONE BATTLE IN A WAR”
Lee Mueller and his wife, Michele Mueller, no relation to Robert Mueller, also paused their Thursday to read through the special counsel’s report. They printed out the table of contents for both volumes along with the executive summaries.
“I view the Mueller report as being one battle in a war against the United States of America’s founding principles and against Donald Trump,” Michele Mueller, 61, said in a suburb of Las Vegas.
After Attorney General William Barr released his four-page summary of the Mueller report late last month, Americans were dug in on their views.
So far, the full report does not appear to have convinced many to change their opinions about the president’s conduct.
A Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll conducted Thursday afternoon to Friday morning found among those respondents of who said they were familiar with the Mueller report, 70 percent said the report had not changed their view of Trump or Russia’s involvement in the U.S. presidential race.
Only 15 percent said they had learned something that changed their view of Trump or the Russia investigation, and a majority of those respondents said they were now more likely to believe that “Trump or someone close to him broke the law.” Trump’s approval ratings, however, dipped 3 percentage points after the release of the report, the poll found.
Ahead of Thursday’s release of the Mueller report, Trump ramped up his insistence that he was the victim, not the perpetrator, of crimes.
James Stratton, 65, of Clearwater, Florida, caught snippets of the news about the report from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. He looked up Barr’s news conference, held Thursday morning before the report was released online, on YouTube.
“Nobody on our side is going to change,” the Republican president of the local Tampa Bay Trump Club said in a phone interview, adding that liberals will grow tired of hearing predictions about Trump’s downfall that never materialize. “We stay focused on the issues. How do we stop socialism? How do we protect our borders?”
“IT WILL ONLY AFFIRM”
For the most invested, though, Mueller’s report offered hope for further investigation, but by Democrats in Congress this time.
Tom Steyer, a billionaire activist who has spent millions of his own dollars directing pressure at Congress to impeach Trump, said while he thinks the contents of the report implicate the president, he acknowledges the findings alone are unlikely to convince Americans to change their minds.
“I think the only way to get voters to notice is to directly publicize, televised hearings,” Steyer said. “We’re all for public hearings so the American people can see and can react themselves.”
In Florida, Margo Hammond, 69, who considers herself an independent voter, gleaned highlights by toggling through the coverage of MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. She was unimpressed with Barr.
“It’s kind of an insult to the American people that we can’t decide for ourselves,” she said while in an art class. She planned to read as much as she could of the report.
“I think it will only affirm what I originally thought,” she said. Then she repeated something she had heard earlier from a news commentator: “There was a whole lot of cheating going on.”
(For a ‘Link to Mueller report’ click https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-TRUMP-RUSSIA/010091HX27V/report.pdf)
(For a graphic on ‘A closer look at Mueller report redactions’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2VSx7HZ)
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Clearwater, Florida and Tim Reid in Las Vegas; Writing by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Marguerita Choy)