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Trump Calls Russia Story 'Total Fabrication'


President Trump says the Russia story is a, quote, "total fabrication" pushed by Democrats, who lack a positive agenda and are just making excuses for their election loss last year. This is how Trump characterized it at a campaign rally last night in West Virginia.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were. We didn't win because of Russia. We won because of you...


TRUMP: ...That I can tell you.

GREENE: Now, just hours before that appearance in West Virginia, news broke that special counsel Robert Mueller is using a grand jury as part of his investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election and potential ties to the Trump campaign. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was at the president's rally in West Virginia. She's on the line with us. Hey there, Tam.


GREENE: Let's start with this grand jury, if we can. What's the deal here?

KEITH: Yeah, so Robert Mueller is using a grand jury in Washington, D.C. That's according to a source familiar with the investigation who confirmed it to NPR. It was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Now, a grand jury is something that you would expect to be used in the course of an investigation like this. And it sort of signals what we already knew, which is that this is a serious investigation, that Mueller has a large team of investigators who are using all of the tools at their disposal.

What we don't know is whether any of this will ultimately lead to charges against anyone. We heard from a couple of President Trump's lawyers. Ty Cobb, who is the special counsel inside of the White House, says that the White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of this work fairly and that the White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller. Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump's outside legal team, made the point to me that they have no reason to believe that the president himself is under investigation.

GREENE: OK, so this news - what was the timing? This news had broken a few hours before Trump came out and addressed this crowd in West Virginia. Did he talk about this?

KEITH: He did not directly talk about it. I can tell you that the news was on the televisions inside of Air Force One as we got on the plane.

GREENE: That's an interesting image (laughter).

KEITH: It is an image - interesting image. So but it was on the screen. You know, he did push back on the Russia investigation, as he often does, calling it a hoax fabricated by Democrats to sort of cover up this huge loss.

He - his - probably his biggest applause line came when he said that prosecutors should really be looking at Hillary Clinton's emails. And then the room broke out into the lock her up, lock her up chants, you know, just like it was 2016 all over again.

But he also did seem to employ a new line to push back on the investigation, saying, you know, there were no Russians in the campaign. There were no Russians in Michigan. And then he said this. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians? They can't beat us at the voting booths, so they're trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. They're 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.

KEITH: Just one small thing to note here. President Trump was not going off-script here. He was reading from a teleprompter. These were planned remarks addressing the Russia investigation. And he concluded by saying that he hopes the final determination is a truly honest one.

GREENE: Well, he wasn't just talking about that. Before this rally, the president was teasing that he would have a big announcement here. What - did he make a big announcement?

KEITH: There was a big announcement. It came from the governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, who is a Democrat or was a Democrat but announced that he is switching his party affiliation to become a Republican. Now, he had been a Republican before he was a Democrat. His party affiliation has been a bit fungible over time.

GREENE: (Laughter) Back and forth, back and forth.

KEITH: Back and forth, back and forth. But, you know, this switch gives a boost to Republicans, who now have complete control of the state governments in 26 states.

GREENE: And, Tam, just briefly, I mean, we're coming to the end of the first week with John Kelly as the new White House chief of staff. Anything feel different there?

KEITH: There is a different feel. President Trump was at this rally last night, and, you know, at a rally he would usually go off-script. But he was remarkably on-script last night. He even talked about mobilizing his base, encouraging people to call their senators, talked about tax reform and other items on his agenda coming up. And he's been tweeting less. I mean, there certainly have been quite a few tweets, but they have been more focused on things like the stock market and jobs and sort of the message of the day. But, you know, we - it's early in the morning on Friday, let's say.

GREENE: It's - and we're one week in.

KEITH: We are one week in.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.