At rally, Trump says Russia probe backers tried to steal power illegally

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- 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 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 at a Grand Rapids arena.

“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,” he said.

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.

The findings 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.

“These are sick people and there has to be accountability because it’s all lies and they know it’s lies,” Trump said.

For the president, the rally capped off a week of rejoicing in the results of the investigation he had repeatedly called a "witch hunt," and stewing over its origins.

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, cheered as the president railed at his opponents.

But they seemed as eager to cheer him over policy issues, applauding loudly when he assured them he was building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and promised to secure the border.

The industrial state along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, helped propel Trump, a Republican, to his improbable victory in 2016.

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Donald Trump and Melania Trump at the Oscars through the years
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Donald Trump and Melania Trump at the Oscars through the years
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 29: Donald Trump and Melania Knauss attend the 2004 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Mortons on February 29, 2004 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 29: (L-R) Teresa Barrick, Steven Tyler, Melania Knauss and Donald Trump attend the 2004 Vanity Fair Oscar Party (Exclusive Inside Coverage) at Mortons on February 29, 2004 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Donald Trump during 2004 Vanity Fair Oscar Party - Arrivals at Mortons in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Tony Barson Archive/WireImage)
Sharon Osbourne, Donald Trump and Melania Knauss during 12th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar Party Co-hosted by In Style - Inside at Pearl in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Donald Trump and Melania Knauss during Elton John AIDS Foundation's 12th Annual Oscar party co-hosted by In Style - Arrivals at Pearl in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by J. Merritt/FilmMagic)
386900 83: Donald Trump and his girlfriend, model Melania Knauss arrive for the 73rd Annual Academy Awards March 25, 2001 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images)
386900 171: Donald Trump and his girlfriend, model Melania Knauss arrive for the 73rd Annual Academy Awards March 25, 2001 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images)
Donald Trump during The 73rd Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Donald Trump & Samuel L. Jackson during The 73rd Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
(Original Caption) Donald Trump with a friend. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 27: (L-R) Donald Trump, Melania Knauss Trump, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale attend Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Morton's Restaurant on February 27, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Donald Trump and Melania Knauss Trump attend Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Morton's Restaurant on February 27, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Real estate mogul and Reality TV star and executive producer ('The Apprentice') Donald J. Trump (R) and new wife model Melania Knauss Trump arrive at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards® party at Mortons restaurant. (Photo by Chris Farina/Corbis via Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Melania Trump during 2005 Vanity Fair Oscar Party - Arrivals at Mortons in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
Melania Trump and Donald Trump during 13th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar Party Co-hosted by Chopard - Arrivals at Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage)
Melania Trump and Donald Trump during 13th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar Party Co-hosted by Chopard - Inside at Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Tim Allen, Jane Hajduk, Melania Trump, and Donald Trump (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Donald Trump and Melania Trump arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party 2011, February 27, 2011 at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Donald Trump and Melania Trump arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party 2011, February 27, 2011 at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
Portrait of married couple Donald and Melania Trump as they pose together on the red carpet at the Kodak Theater during the 83rd Academy Awards, Hollywood, California, February 27, 2011. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)
Donald Trump and wife Melania at the 83rd Academy Awards, held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
(L-R) Actress Helena Bonham Carter, Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump arrive at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 27, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
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The crowd's enthusiasm underscored the risks to Trump of going too far expounding on his chagrin over the Mueller probe. Some advisers feel his best bet is to focus on the strong economy and success in enacting administration priorities like the tax overhaul.

INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE

Mueller left unresolved in his report the question of whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by impeding the Russia investigation. In his letter to Congress, Barr said he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, determined there was insufficient evidence to establish that the president committed obstruction of justice.

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.

Trump faces other investigations into his personal and business affairs from Democratic lawmakers, who now control the U.S. House of Representatives.

But Democrats also risk alienating voters weary of the Russian probe. Trump told the rally his opponents now had to decide whether to keep up their "partisan investigations" or apologize to Americans and focus on issues like infrastructure and healthcare.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Eric Beech and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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