Which is why the most important result of the Mueller report may be to politically inoculate Trump against the many probes still looming. America has now seen Trump weather a massive investigation led by a widely respected prosecutor. Somehow, Trump turned what might have been a catastrophe to any other President–a sweeping inquiry into potential collusion with a foreign power to undermine U.S. democracy–into a rebuttal against whatever comes next. “The politics of what’s happened over the last few days just places the President in a much better political position than he probably could have imagined,” says Russell Riley, professor of presidential studies at the University of Virginia.
Mueller’s findings matter in no small part because of what his investigation came to represent. For Democrats and many disenchanted Republicans, the special counsel evolved into a symbol of the rule of law itself. His investigation dominated social media and cable news, and his likeness spawned a cottage industry, with Trump’s opponents snapping up prayer candles, action figures and mugs emblazoned with the words it’s MUELLER TIME.
The former FBI director’s reputation was one reason congressional Democrats were willing to pin so much on the outcome of his investigation. When asked about the Russia investigation, Democrats typically said they would reserve judgment until Mueller completed his work. Now that he has, it’s harder for Democrats to quibble with the conclusions. “You can’t on the one hand defer to Mueller,” says Stanley Brand, former counsel for the House of Representatives under Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill, “and say, Now that we have it, we want to replow that ground.”