Trump blasts Russia investigation as ‘fake story’ at West Virginia rally

Rally for thousands of diehard advocates held on same day Robert Mueller reportedly convened grand jury as part of investigation into alleged collusion

Donald Trump rallied thousands of diehard supporters against the investigation into his election campaigns alleged collusion with Russia, cautioning on Thursday: Theyre trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story.

In what might be seen as a bid to weaponise his populist base, the US president sought to discredit the allegations as a total fabrication on the same day it was reported that special advise Robert Mueller has convened a grand jury in Washington, a sign that his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election is escalating.

Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign; there never were, Trump told a rally in Huntington, West Virginia, a coal country stronghold where Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 42 percentage points. We didnt win because of Russia. We won because of you.

The crowd, many with Make America great again hats or signs, erupted in vociferous cheers. Trump continued: We won because we wholly outworked the other side. We won because of millions of patriotic Americans voted to take back their country.

The president asked mockingly: Have you assured any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight, any Russians? They cant beat us at the voting kiosks so theyre trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. Theyre trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake narrative that is demeaning to all of us and most importantly demeaning to our country and demeaning to our constitution.

Trumps rhetoric at a 9,000 -person capacity arena on Thursday echoed rallies during the election campaign where he claimed the system was rigged against him. This time he appeared to be scattering seeds of doubts concerning the investigations by Mueller and two congressional committees into whether there was collusion between Russia and Trumps presidential campaign.

I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future wishing and deserve, the president added ominously. Democrat lawmakers will have to decide. They can continue their obsession with the Russian hoax or they can serve the interests of the American people. Try winning at the voter kiosk. Not going to be easy, but thats the way youre supposed to do it.

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The pledge of allegiance during Donald Trumps rally in West Virginia. Photo: Justin Merriman/ Getty Images

Trump spared the media his usual broadsides and instead focused on Democrats, whom he claimed were trying to find an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. Prosecutors should be looking for former secretary of state Hillary Clintons 33,000 emails, he added, prompting thunderous cheers and chants of Lock her up! some nine months after the election.

The prolonged refusal of links to Moscow signalled a shift in strategy for Trump, who rarely dwells on such issues during rallies, where few supporters seem concerned. His daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, also brought it up during a short speech, calling it a crazy narrative about Russia. And West Virginia governor Jim Justice, announcing his defection from the Democrat to the Republicans, told the crowd: Have we not heard enough about the Russians? I mean, to our God in heaven, think about it: the stock markets at 22,000 and this country has hope and were on our way.

The concerted endeavour could be a sign that the White House is realising the full gravitation of the situation. Mueller, appointed special counsel in May following the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, has recruited more than a dozen investigators, including current and former justice department attorneys with experience in international bribery, organised crime and fiscal fraud.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Mueller is utilizing a grand jury in Washington, meaning he could subpoena witnesses and records in the coming weeks and months.

Why the poorest district in West Virginia has faith in Trump

Defense attorney John Dowd told the Associated Press( AP ): With regards the news of the federal grand jury, I have no reason to believe that the president is under investigation.

Ty Cobb, special advise to the president, said he was not aware Mueller had started use a new grand jury. Grand jury matters are typically secret, Cobb told the AP. The White House favours anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work somewhat … The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr Mueller.

It was unclear how the Washington grand jury was connected to the work of a separate grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, that has been used to gather information on Trumps former national security consultant Michael Flynn, who is under scrutiny over his ties to Moscow.

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, criticised Trumps claim that the Russia story was a hoax. It plainly isnt because Mueller is announcing today that a grand jury has been impaneled. Methinks he does protest too much.

Trumps speech in the city was a wasted opportunity, Williams added. I thought it was a 2016 campaign rally. I expected some discussion about the opioid crisis, particularly since the presidents commissions report came out a couple of days ago. I was hoping he would declare a national emergency.

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