GREENVILLE, S.C. — At a Democratic Party breakfast here, featuring 2020 presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, 50-year-old John Learing showed up Saturday morning in a black T-shirt with “MUELLER” above an image of the famed prosecutor.
The evening before, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had officially concluded his Russia investigation. For Learing, who had followed its every twist and turn, the beginning of the end felt strange, and a little disappointing.
“It does feel like there was this lead-up, but then nobody I wanted to see in trouble seems as if they’re in trouble,” Learing said. He had hoped the president, or at least a member of his inner circle, would face some kind of punishment.
For 674 days, Democratic voters have been waiting to see if Mueller’s team would uncover irrefutable evidence that President Trump conspired with Russia to rig the 2016 election.
Mueller’s findings have not yet been made public, or even shared with Congress. But the fact that the investigation wrapped up without any further indictments has Republicans declaring victory.
That has Learing worried. “I do believe [the report] needs to be made public,” he said. “I do believe that we all need to see it for ourselves. At the same time, continuing to stomp our feet if nothing is behind the curtain makes us look like it has been a wild-goose chase for the last two years.”
At campaign events around the country for would-be Trump challengers, some Democratic voters had Mueller at the top of their minds. Others, however, didn’t seem to know, or care, that the investigation was over.
On Friday night, several hours after Mueller’s report was delivered to the attorney general, a Texas state representative was warming up the crowd in Grapevine, Tex., for Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) at a campaign event.
Someone in the crowd yelled, “He’s gonna get indicted.”
“I’m going to get on my knees and pray for that,” state Rep. Ramón Romero Jr. replied as he knelt.
But at a campaign event with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in Rye, N.H., on Saturday morning, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt tweeted that voters weren’t interested in the Mueller report at all. Instead, they asked the candidate about peace in the Middle East, health care and climate change.
And for some voters at an outdoor rally in San Diego for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the first they heard about the report’s conclusion was from the candidate himself.
“I don’t know what’s in the report, nobody does,” Sanders told the crowd. “I do know that Mueller wound up indicting 34 people, including six Trump campaign officials. And I also know that it is absolutely imperative that the Trump administration make that report public as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, in Palm Beach, Fla., where Trump was spending the weekend, a crowd of his supporters gathered on a bridge that leads to his Mar-a-Lago resort. Robert Cortis, who travels the country with a pro-Trump float hooked to the back of his Chevy, said he felt that Trump had been vindicated.
“My thoughts have always been, they haven’t found anything, they won’t find anything,” Cortis said. “For those who kept saying [Mueller] would, are they going to look at reality now and say they were wrong? That’s what I would like to see.”
Other Democrats stressed that they weren’t relying on Mueller to oust Trump.
Jennifer Giles, 45, was at Harris’s event in Texas. She said she was skeptical that the report would undo Trump, or that the public would even see it in its entirety.
“Frankly, I think 2020 could take care of our problems,” she said.
At the Buttigieg breakfast, Rae Linefsky, 74, and Ira Machowsky, 63, visiting South Carolina from Brooklyn, weren’t giving up hope that ongoing investigations would continue to find Trump misdeeds.
They said they have followed closely the drip, drip, drip of evidence and indictments from the Mueller investigation. Machowsky said he still thinks something significant will be uncovered.
“There already has been,” Linefsky countered. “When people say ‘there’s nothing,’ you go over all the indictments, and you wonder what they’re even thinking. I have great hope in the Southern District of New York.” (Federal prosecutors there are handling the case of Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations.)
“That’s where the real thing is going to go,” Machowsky agreed. “There’s no question that something happened.”
Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., said Democrats should focus more on figuring out why people felt compelled to vote for Trump, rather than trying to impeach him.
“Look, I think a lot of folks are waiting for some piece of evidence to come along that finally proves once and for all that he’s not a good guy,” he said. “And what they forget is that there are a lot of people where I live, and maybe a lot of people around here too, who, knowing that he’s not a good guy, walked in to the voting booth and voted to burn the house down because of some very deep issues that motivated them to send a message.”
It was a message that Learing could get behind.
“I don’t believe in pulling him out of office,” Learing. “I believe in beating him.”
Itkowitz reported from Washington. Chelsea Janes in Grapevine, Tex., Meagan Flynn in Palm Beach, Fla., and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. in San Diego contributed to this report.