By Jeff Mason
GRANDRAPIDS, Mich. (Reuters) – At his first political rally since the end of the Russia collusion probe, President Donald Trump on Thursday accused backers of the investigation of trying to overturn the 2016 election and attempting “illegally” to claim power.
Declaring the country “hurt” by the probe, Trump called his opponents “losers” and celebrated the fact that the investigation had come to a close.
“After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead. The collusion delusion is over,” he told a crowd of thousands.
Trump said: “The Russia witch hunt was a plan by those who lost the election to try and illegally regain power by framing innocent Americans – many of them, they suffered – with an elaborate hoax.”
On Sunday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s more than 300-page report about his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The investigation did not establish that members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the election.
That news delighted the president and his inner circle, who spent the first two years of his administration confronting a cloud of suspicion over how the New York businessman and political novice won the White House.
With that cloud largely lifted, Trump has let loose, calling out those who supported the investigation and referring to evil acts of treason by his opponents.
Trump revisited that theme at the rally, knocking the media and Democrats and calling for accountability.
For the president, the rally capped off a week of rejoicing in the investigation’s results and stewing over its origins.
Trump spent nearly two years calling the effort a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” and despite declaring himself totally exonerated by its findings, he has continued to ruminate over them.
Advisers to Trump, who is not known to let go of grudges easily, have debated the merits of going after the president’s opponents and those he blames for sparking the investigation versus claiming a win, moving on and using the momentum of good news to bolster his bid for re-election.
In the packed, noisy arena in Michigan, a political swing state that Trump wants to win again in 2020, the view of the crowd was clear.
Thousands of supporters, many of them wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats, applauded and cheered as the president railed at his opponents.
The industrial state along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, helped propel the Republican Trump to his improbable victory in 2016.
Mueller did not draw a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice by impeding the Russia investigation, leaving that instead to Barr, who said there was not enough evidence to determine Trump had made such an offence.
Democrats were not satisfied with Barr’s determination and have demanded to see the report in full. Some Republicans, including Trump himself, have also voiced support for releasing it.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)