President Donald Trump downplayed “the Russia story” Thursday night at a rally in West Virginia, just hours after news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
“The Russia story is total fabrication,” Trump said Thursday night. “It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics.”
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury, which began its work a few weeks ago. Soon after that report, Reuters reported the grand jury had issued subpoenas related to the meeting Donald Trump, Jr. took with a Kremlin-connected attorney last summer in an effort to get dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
This is the second grand jury Mueller has impaneled. The first, which is still ongoing, is focused on a criminal investigation into former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The grand juries give Mueller the ability to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath, and potentially seek indictments.
The grand jury is also a sign that Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible Trump campaign collusion is ramping up. Trump did not mention the grand jury Thursday at the rally, and instead fell back on old campaign rhetoric about his former rival.
“What the prosecutors should be looking at are Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails,” Trump said, to uproarious applause. “And they should be looking at the paid Russian speeches. And the owned Russian companies. Or look at the uranium that she sold that is now in the hands of very angry Russians.”
Trump also, as Daniel Dale of The Toronto Star put it, set a new goalpost.
A new goalpost from President Donald Trump (real quote): "There were no Russians in our campaign. There never were."
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 3, 2017
“There were no Russians in our campaign,” Trump said. “There never were. We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you.”
But, at the very least, Trump did use the information fed to Wikileaks by Russians to his advantage, having mentioned Wikileaks 164 in the last month of the campaign.
“We won because we totally outworked the other side,” Trump said Thursday. “We won because millions of patriotic Americans voted to take back their country. Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?”
Trump has continuously blamed Democrats for the Russia investigation, despite the fact that Mueller was appointed by the deputy attorney general Trump himself picked, and before that, Mueller was nominated as head of the FBI by former President George W. Bush.
Trump has also said the investigation is simply an effort to overshadow his election victory, but the investigation into Russian meddling actually began last summer before the election even took place.
“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,” Trump said at the rally. “They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership 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. I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one.”