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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — President Donald Trump took a victory lap at a campaign rally here Thursday night, telling supporters that "after three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead.”
"The collusion delusion is over," he said, referring to Sunday's letter from Attorney General William Barr that appeared to suggest no criminal charges would stem from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian connections. "The special counsel completed its report and found no collusion and no obstruction. ...Total exoneration. Complete vindication."
In fact, the letter said that Mueller did not exonerate Trump on the issue of obstruction of justice, but that Barr himself believed there was insufficient proof of criminal activity. Nontheless, Trump tried to undermine the whole effort.
“The Russia witch hunt was a plan by those who lost the election to try and illegally gain power by framing innocent Americans,” Trump continued, calling the investigation “an elaborate hoax” and a “sinister effort to undermine our historical election.”
"Democrats have to decide if they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit, partisan investigations — or whether they will apologize to the American people,” he said, taking shots over the Russia probe at "Crooked Hillary Clinton, the DNC" and House Democratic chairs leading panels still investigating him, such as "little pencil neck Adam Schiff" of California, who heads the Intelligence Committee, and Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler.
The president showed no intention of moving past the special counsel investigation as he gears up for his re-election. His references to the Mueller probe began within the first minute of his speech.
“Robert Mueller was a god to the Democrats,” Trump told the crowd, “until he said there was no collusion. They don’t like him so much right now.”
Trump repeated his frequent attacks against the news media, claiming that they had joined forces with the Democratic Party and the “deep state” to “overturn the results of the 2016 election" but that that those efforts "have failed.”
Trump also spoke at length about the southern border, repeating unfounded claims that migrant caravans are “pouring” across the U.S.-Mexico border and lamenting that “we had to go down a little bit of a different path” to fund the border wall, “but that's okay, national emergency it is.”
Trump also implored the Mexican government to do more to stop illegal border crossings, warning that “if they don't, and I am telling you right now, we will close the damn border.” Additionally, Trump said he would be going “to a certain place” to see the border wall construction within the coming weeks.
Trump's declaration of victory Thursday came in a state that was one of his biggest 2016 wins. In one of the most unexpected results of the presidential election, Trump won Michigan by three-tenths of a percentage point — or 10,704 votes — becoming the first Republican to carry the state since 1988 and delivering a devastating blow to Democrats in the process.
The president was in friendly territory in Republican-leaning Kent County on Thursday night. But recreating his 2016 success won’t be easy statewide. In the 2018 midterms, Michigan reverted back to its blue roots, electing Democrat Gretchen Whitmer as governor by nearly 10 points and flipping two House seats from red to blue.
“Michigan is vital to his re-election,” Donald Zinman, a political science professor at Grand Valley State University, just outside of Grand Rapids, said in a phone interview with NBC News. “Trump obviously worked Michigan really hard in 2016, and we should give him credit for that. But at the same time, the Democrats just got caught napping. I don’t think they will make that mistake again.”
Although the most energetic moments of his speech Thursday night focused on the special counsel, Trump, speaking to a crowd peppered with signs that read “Buy American. Hire American,” revived his protectionist message on trade and the economy that many credited for helping deliver the white-working class vote in Midwestern states in 2016.
“The automobile industry was decimated, and you people knew it better than anybody else,” Trump said, boasting that he got rid of NAFTA.
The president, pointing out that his last campaign stop of the 2016 race was in Michigan, said on Monday he was feeling positive about his second presidential campaign.
“It's going to be so much easier the second time,” he said. “And I am one for one.”