The state's Democratic governor announced he will switch to the GOP
West Virginia delivered Trump one of his strongest victories during the 2016 election
President Donald Trump, facing a series of new headlines in the ongoing investigation into his campaign, Russia and the 2016 election, lambasted the Washington “swamp” for its focus on the story in West Virginia on Thursday evening, raising questions about whether the final report from the special counsel will be fair and slamming Democrats for focusing on the story.
In his five-minute riff, Trump hit on a familiar refrain that the Russia story is an attempt by Democrats to downplay his electoral victories – but in a new turn, Trump raised questions about whether the special counsel will be fair and joked about the idea that Russians infiltrated his campaign.
“The Russian story is a total fabrication, it is just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics,” he said. “That’s all it is.”
Trump’s comments came at a raucous campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia, where the President touted gains in the stock market and said his administration has already kept its campaign promises to coal workers.
“As you have seen, I have kept that promise as President,” he told attendees at the rally at the 9,000-person Big Sandy Superstore Arena. “We are putting our coal miners back to work. We have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal. We have stopped the EPA intrusion. American coal exports are already up.”
Ahead of the rally, however, Trump was met with a trio of stories: The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, respectively, reported that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury and issued subpoenas related to Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, and CNN reported that federal investigators have seized on Trump’s and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Trump didn’t directly mention the stories, but it was clear Russia was on the President’s mind.
“Most people know there we no Russian in our campaign, there never were,” he said. “We didn’t win because of Russia, we won because of you. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?”
Trump went on: “They (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.”
Trump added that he hopes the determination made by Mueller’s investigation will be “an honest one.”
“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,” he said.
The event, which was dotted with protesters who were quickly escorted out by law enforcement officers, also saw a big win for Republicans: Democratic West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced to the crowd that he plans to switch parties and join the GOP, a move that brings the governor more in line with his state’s Republican tilt.
“Now, today I’ll tell you, with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, today I tell you as West Virginians, I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” Justice said. “So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
The ongoing Russia probe has frustrated Trump and his top aides, who believe the slow trickle of information continually hurts the President’s legislative agenda. To date, Trump has been unable to score a sweeping legislative victory.
Trump also went after the US Senate for not passing a health care package – saying that it’s “hard to believe” how Democrats and Republicans “let us down” on health care.
Referencing West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Trump said: “We have another friend with us tonight who voted for us on health care and honestly, how the Republicans and the Democrats let us down is hard to believe, repeal and replace, hard to believe, hard to believe. Senators.”
Trump has routinely used the campaign trail as a way to shore up his base, visiting states that helped deliver him the White House to hold raucous rallies that regularly see the President return to the rhetorical flare that defined him during his 2016 campaign. And Thursday night’s event in Huntington was no different.
“All across the country, Americans of every kind are coming together with one simple goal: Make American Great Again,” Trump said. “The stock market reached yet another all-time, in history, all-time high today. Boosting the retirement savings of everyone in this room. Have you all been helped? I think so. Unemployment is at a 16-year low. But don’t forget, and I will never forget, the millions and millions of people out there that want jobs that don’t register on the unemployment rolls because they gave up looking for jobs.”
Trump has already declared his intent to run again in 2020, and his reelection campaign is already up and running, including raising money and hosting events across the country. To date, the President has headlined campaign rallies in Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Ohio.
Thursday’s event was the Trump’s seventh campaign rally in roughly six months.
West Virginia delivered Trump one of his strongest victories during the 2016 election, with nearly 70% of the state’s electorate backing the businessman-turned-politician. And while Trump’s national approval rating has steadily gone down since he stepped into the Oval Office in January, his approval rating has remained strong in West Virginia.
According to a July Gallup poll, 60% of residents in West Virginia approve of Trump’s presidency, higher than any other state.
One reason for that optimism: Trump’s repeated promises to bring back coal jobs.
“A lot of people are going to be put back to work, a lot of coal miners are going back to work,” Trump told a crowd in Kentucky in March. “The miners are coming back.”
Trump has also singled out West Virginia as a state that will benefit from policy changes like his plan to end regulations that protect waterways from coal mining waste.
CNN’s Sophie Tatum contributed to this report.