President Donald Trump gathered his base on Thursday night to balance a continuous attack on the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a few hours after news emerged that Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia investigation, had tapped a grand jury as part of the extended probe, Politico reports.
Referring to the investigation as “fake” and “demeaning,” he claimed it was both a Democratic excuse for the election loss and a distraction from what Trump contends are the more serious crimes of his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.
For a president who feels wounded and betrayed by some of his closest allies — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescued himself from the Russian matter — the night offered a chance to punch back in front of his base, which urged on his every blow.
“The reason why Democrats only talk about the totally made-up Russia story is because they have no message, no agenda and no vision,” Trump said to a roar of approval. “They don’t talk about the all-time-high stock market, they don’t talk about reforms to the VA, or about manufacturing jobs we’re bringing back to America by the hundreds of thousands, they don’t talk about the Keystone pipeline that I immediately approved.”
“The Russia story is a total fabrication,” the president added. “It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics, that’s all it is.”
The intelligence community has concluded that the Russian government interfered in the election to help Trump and harm Clinton. Mueller, along with three congressional committees, is investigating the interference and whether Trump’s campaign colluded in the effort.
“It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about,” Trump said. “What the prosecutors should be looking at are Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails.”
The line brought some of the loudest applause of the night.
“And they should be looking at the paid Russian speeches,” he continued, offering no proof of his assertions. “And the owned Russian companies. Or let them look at the uranium she sold that is now in the hands of very angry Russians. Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign, there never were.”
“We didn’t win because of Russia — we won because of you, that I can tell you,” Trump said, continuing the riff.
“Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight? They can’t beat us at the voting booths, so they’re trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us, and most importantly demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution.”
Trump has been fuming about the Russia allegations since they first emerged during the campaign, and Thursday’s message reflected an emerging defense that takes aim at Clinton while also painting the scandal as a Democratic obstruction tactic.
“It’s not often that you get the president coming to southern West Virginia,” said Eric Blatt, who came to the rally with his three daughters and a number of their cousins. The group traveled from across the river in Ohio for the event and munched on popcorn while waiting for Trump to take the stage.
For Blatt, like for so many here, Trump’s ascendancy has brought hope that the region’s coal industry can come back to life. And like Trump, he’s already seeing progress.
“It seems like it’s starting to uptick a little,” Blatt said. “Evidently, something’s working.”
But of course, Trump’s appeal doesn’t end there. It’s his style, Blatt said, “the brashness, the ‘I don’t give an S-H-I” — he stopped there. “He’s a real dude.”
And supporters are taking to Trump’s new strategy of attacking Congress, which is led by Republicans, for any troubles in Washington.
His agenda would be further along “if the Democrats would get out of the way and let him,” said Mindy Woodard, a West Virginia native.
“And the Republicans!” Nick Woodard, her brother, interjected.
Whether Trump can keep up the disciplined message, swinging at Democrats, Republicans and Hillary Clinton alike, remains to be seen. On Friday, he leaves Washington for a summer vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Away from the Oval Office, he will still have his Twitter account handy.