WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) — President Donald Trump escaped Washington for his golf club in New Jersey without taking questions on the Russia investigation.
The probe is ramping up just as he’s taking time off.
But at a political rally in West Virginia, hours after it was learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas related to the investigation, the president turned to his base to have his back.
“The Russian story is a total fabrication, it is just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. That’s all it is,” said President Trump.
His latest defense, while toned down in its attacks on the news media, omitted some key facts.
“Most people know there we no Russians in our campaign, there never were,” he said at the rally. “We didn’t win because of Russia, we won because of you. That, I can tell you. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?”
The president did not mention, however, that his eldest son, Don Trump, Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort held a meeting with a Russian lawyer and four others, after receiving an email promising “opposition research” on Hillary Clinton last year.
The latest White House message on Russia comes as new Chief of Staff John Kelly is bringing discipline to the West Wing, controlling access to the Oval Office and, perhaps, to the president himself. It’s a much more structured environment that will be critical as top officials appear to be dreading the potential for Mueller’s investigation to drag on indefinitely.
“These types of endeavors end up being fishing expeditions and they are broadly cast nets,” said Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway.
Top Trump administration officials are calling attention to the leaks from the intelligence community that are fueling the investigation.
“Understand this,” said Dir. of National Intelligence Dan Coats, “if you improperly disclose classified info, we will find you. We will investigate you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law and you will not be happy with the result.”
As for the president’s vacation, the downtime enjoyed in New Jersey represents something of a reversal from his previous promises about work ethic, and after repeatedly blasting Obama for taking time off.
“I promise you, I will not be taking very long vacations, if I take them at all,” he said on the campaign trail. “There’s no time for vacations. We’re not going to be big on vacations.”