For about two years, President Donald Trump has insisted that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The findings by independent counsel Robert Mueller, released over the weekend, support that assertion; he did not find evidence that Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” according to a letter issued by U.S. Attorney General William Barr summarizing the so-called Mueller Report.
But politically speaking, the investigation is far from dead, especially since the full report has not been released to the public.
Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston, says that the report likely won’t change the opinions politicians already have about whether the president played a role in Russian interference during the 2016 election.
“Especially if you look here in Texas, you’ve got basically 40 percent of people who believe that the investigation was doing the right thing, and 40 percent who’s believing it was doing the wrong thing,” Rottinghaus says.
Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro told NPR this weekend that Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election “open the door” to attempts by other countries to sway U.S. voters, with no consequences for the candidate who benefits.
Sen. Ted Cruz said on CNN that Democrats will continue to attempt to “take down” the president, even though the Mueller probe is complete.
Rottinghaus says Democrats want to focus on connections between Trump and Russia, even though Mueller found no direct conspiracy.
“I think the heat is off for a lot of Republicans,” Rottinghaus says. “Most moderate Republicans like Will Hurd, who represents most of the border region of Texas, can breathe a pretty big sigh of relief. And conservative Republicans who back the president in these crisis times can drop a few ‘I told you so’ lines in current political skirmishes.”
Rottinghaus says the results of the Mueller probe could help Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s re-election bid, giving him both a clearer path to being renominated by Republicans and political cover in the general election.
Freshman Texas House Republican Dan Crenshaw wasted no time criticizing Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee for their ongoing investigations of the president, and even suggested that Democrats should face repercussions for those actions.
Rottinghaus says other Republicans will probably push back on investigations initiated by Democrats.
“It’s usually the case that these special counsels don’t find a smoking gun,” he says. “It you look at the record of the Mueller investigation, they’ve prosecuted everything they’ve felt was reasonable to do.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.