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‘Exonerated’: The verdict on Mueller from Trump's heartland

People in Arkansas thought that the Mueller report was a "witch hunt" and feel vindicated by its findings. Their affection for President Donald Trump is deep - and so is their scepticism towards the special counsel and Washington.

Joyce Smith, a retired nurse, heard about the findings on Sunday while she was driving across Oklahoma. A friend texted her the news, and she told her husband, Walter, who was in the driver's seat. They were both delighted by Mueller's conclusion.

Congressional Democrats, liberals and others in Washington may be clamouring for more investigations. Yet she and her husband reflect the views of many if not most of those who live in Arkansas, "flyover people", she describes them, "the people in the middle who get skipped", or as Trump says: "the forgotten people".

They make up the bedrock of support for the president and on Sunday they celebrated since, as Mr Smith says: "Trump was exonerated."

On that day she and her husband drove through a landscape that is familiar to those who know flyover country. Signs of the economic hardship, resilience and patriotism that mark small-town and rural America are easy to spot in west-central Arkansas.

Here in Russellville (population of 29,000), the place where the Smiths stopped before leaving on their trip, one can see vacant buildings in the downtown area and a gigantic American flag that whips back and forth in the wind.

The Smiths and others who live here were gratified by the results of Mueller's investigation, which uncovered no evidence that the president colluded in the Russian government's alleged attempt to interfere in the democratic process.

For the Smiths, Mr Trump is not a criminal or a Russian spy. Instead he is a leader who has ushered in economic growth to the country and hope to Arkansas.

Russellville is one of the many towns across the nation that has supported Mr Trump and his drain-the-swamp campaign despite the chorus of critics in Washington and demands for his impeachment.

In 2016 Trump won more than 70% of the vote in Pope County, where Russellville is located, and people here remain firmly behind him (and proud that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who lived in nearby Pulaski County, is working at the White House).

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