02:15 - Source: CNN
Trump on N. Korea threat: You are protected

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"We love Jeff Sessions," Trump said

"In case you're curious, no, Russia did not help me," Trump said

CNN  — 

Even with his chief legislative promise again stalled, the FBI’s special investigator inching closer to his inner circle, and a nuclear crisis brewing in Asia, President Donald Trump’s return to campaigning Friday after a week of diplomacy was an upbeat affair.

Trump still lashed out at his favorite foils: the media, Hillary Clinton and North Korea’s dictator. And his frontal attack on NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem touched the same racial third rail that he’s exploited during his past appearances before arenas full of supporters.

But at his evening campaign event for Alabama Sen. Luther Strange – competing in a primary contest on Tuesday – Trump largely avoided the fevered anger that’s pitched his previous rallies.

Unlike a dark and stormy event last month in Arizona, where Trump bellowed with anger at losing by one vote a key health care measure, he withheld his harshest attacks on Sen. John McCain, who on Friday announced he couldn’t support the latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“He decided to do something different, and that’s fine,” Trump shrugged. “We’re going to do it eventually.”

He avoided direct attacks on members of his Cabinet, and even offered praise for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been subject to a curious series of broadsides by the man who appointed him.

“We love Jeff Sessions,” Trump said (he was speaking in the attorney general’s home state). When the crowd began chanting the preferred anti-Hillary Clinton salvo “Lock her Up,” it was Sessions Trump referred them to.

Even Trump’s typically stoic, unsmiling chief of staff John Kelly made a brief appearance on stage after Trump demanded he take a bow, though he declined to say anything aside from “give it up!” when Trump encouraged him to say a few words. His fist-pumping and grin was a distant cry from the serious-minded appearance he’s adopted in the West Wing.

After a week darting between meetings with world leaders, listening through translators about the concerns weighing on the world, Trump appeared buoyant to be returning to his preferred venue. He mentioned his week of diplomacy at the beginning of his remarks, and revived his “rocket man” insult of Kim Jong Un, the young North Korean leader who this week called Trump a hard-of-hearing “dotard.”

00:57 - Source: CNN
What exactly is a 'dotard'?

Any concerns about the increasingly personal brinksmanship with the enigmatic dictator weren’t apparent. Trump promised his Alabama crowd they’d be safe should Pyongyang attack, and left it at that.

And he chose not to expound at length on the Russia investigation, which continues apace and, according to administration officials, continues to provoke deep anger in Trump.

“In case you’re curious, no, Russia did not help me,” Trump told his crowd. “It is one great hoax.”

It was a standard Trump defense of what’s become his presidency’s greatest vulnerability. But unlike his rants in private about Mueller and the “witch hunt” investigation, Trump’s tone was lighter on Friday.

“I didn’t see too many Russians in Pennsylvania,” he scoffed.