(CN) – President Donald Trump was in full campaign mode Thursday night in West Virginia, defiantly continuing to insist “the Russia story is a complete fabrication” just hours after the public learned that special prosecutor Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to delve into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
During an extended riff in a speech that also focused on economic development and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s decision to switch party affiliations from Democrat to Republican, Trump dismissed talk of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign “an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics.”
“That’s all it is,” the president said.
“Most people know there we no Russian in our campaign, there never were,” Trump continued, raising a straw dog that is not part of the ongoing, separate investigations being carried out by Mueller and two congressional committees.
“We didn’t win because of Russia, we won because of you. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?”
Trump said the focus on Russian meddling continues because Democrats “can’t beat us at the voting booths so they are trying to cheat you out of the … future that you want.
“They are 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,” he added.
Referring to Mueller’s investigation, Trump said, “I just hope that 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 American who want a better future want and deserve.”
The president’s remarks came just four hours after a trio of stories broke, in The Wall Street Journal, on the Reuters’ wire and on CNN, revealing that the grand jury had been impaneled and that the scope of Mueller’s investigation had expanded to include looking at the potential financial ties between Trump, his family and associates, and Russia.
But those stories weren’t the only thing on Trump’s mind as he addressed the boisterous crowd attending his campaign-style rally.
Trump overwhelmingly won the state in the November election, besting Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 42-point margin, partly due to his promises to revive a slumping coal industry.
On Thursday night, Trump portrayed himself as a job creator and vowed to cut taxes, crack down on immigrants, and rebuild the country’s infrastructure.
“During the campaign,” Trump said, “I made you a promise that I would be putting coal miners back to work and I’ve kept that promise. As President, we are putting our coal miners back to work. We have stopped the EPA intrusion and our coal exports are already up more than 60 percent this year.”
“Everyone in this arena, is united by shared values,” the president said. “We believe in God, we support the Constitution of the United States, we seriously defend the second amendment, and we believe that schools should teach our students to love our country and our great American flag.”
Trump showed his support for law enforcement, saying, “We stand with the incredible men and women of law enforcement. “ He also said that he believed a nation must “strongly protect its borders.”
He also continued to insist Congress pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
And then there was the matter of the governor, who inspired a smattering of boos when he first ambled into the crowd’s view.
Justice then announced he would officially change his voter registration to Republican on Friday, inspiring cheers.
“I will tell you with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, today I will tell you as West Virginians that I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” the governor said.
Justice went on to effusing praise Trump, saying, “This man is a good man. He’s got a
backbone, he’s got real ideas. He cares about us in West Virginia.”
He added, “Have we not heard enough about the Russians?”
After Justice spoke, Trump welcomed the governor to the GOP.
“Having Big Jim as a Republican is such an honor,” he said. “Fantastic man, fantastic guy.”
Bill Cooper, a retired coal miner and business owner from Barboursville, W. Va., said he attended the rally and supports the president because “Trump has all the right ideas as far as our tax structure for business and the right ideas as far as doing away with the extreme regulations that counteracts the industry and our businesses.”
“Obama’s policies in regards to coal mining were too restrictive, Cooper said, “The EPA rules [under Obama] were not realistic, and they intentionally wanted to drive the coal industry out.”
Lauren Floyd, also of Huntington, said she agrees with Trump’s position on healthcare.
“As someone in the healthcare industry, I know that it’s a very tricky issue,” she said.
“I can definitely understand why there’s so much debate over the issue, because it truly affects everybody. However, I feel there is a huge issue with people who do pay their premiums and who do go to work. They’re just not able to afford healthcare, they’re not able to be treated, and that’s a really big issue, especially in our area, where we have a lot of middle income families and that gap is just something that really needs to be addressed.”
But not everyone who attended the rally was there to cheer Trump.
Dustin White, of Boone County, W.Va. was at the rally in protest. “I wanted to come here to stand in support of everyone else whose rights he [Trump] has so blatantly been stomping. As an eleventh-generation West Virginian and someone who has been around the state, I want people to know that there is a lot of false narrative happening around the people of Appalachia … that the majority of us, the real hillbillies, the real mountaineers, and the real rednecks … do not support this kind of hate.”
Arlene Vaughn, from Charleston, W. Va., also attended to protest.
“West Virginia born and raised. Greenbrier County, daddy was a coal miner, all of that. And I’m here today to exercise my constitutional right to protest against this man, who calls himself our President,” Vaughn said. “I’m ashamed of him. I’m embarrassed. I think he’s a traitor, I think he was in with the Russians on messing with the election, he won’t give up his tax returns or nothing. I think he’s obstructing justice. He doesn’t want anybody to know what he’s done and most importantly, I’m here to protest him not observing the rule of law and shaming democracy.”
Kim Van Rijn, who attended the rally with her husband, Mark Dasher, said she believes Trump poses the biggest threat to national security “since forever, really, certainly since the Cold War.”
Dasher was also critical. “Trump’s only in it for himself, it’s his narcissism that’s gotten him to where he is now. He’s totally unsuited for the office and is degrading the office and degrading our country along with it, ” he said.