Trump has moved from denying that his campaign colluded with Russia, to simply quibbling about the way his campaign colluded with Russia.
Donald Trump is not having a good week.
Faced with the explosive news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to investigate his ties to Russia, Trump is fleeing for a luxury vacation at his New Jersey golf club. But first, he stopped over in West Virginia to hold a rally with his most hardcore supporters.
After Trump made the obligatory complaint that Hillary Clinton should be under investigation instead of himself, to chants of "Lock her up!", he proceeded to make a eyebrow-raising new claim about why the Russia controversy is no big deal:
TRUMP: There were no Russians in our campaign. There never were. We didn't win because of Russia. We won because of you. That i can tell you. We won because we totally outworked the other side. We won because millions of patriotic Americans voted to take back their country. Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?
Trump has now shifted the standard to where there were no Russians "in their campaign."
But nobody ever said there were Russians directly on his payroll. The issue is whether members of his campaign secretly met with Russian operatives, cut deals, or promised to lift U.S. sanctions on Russia in return for material help, then lied about it with Trump's blessing.
Furthermore, the fact that Trump appears to have committed obstruction of justice, firing the director of the FBI for investigating Russia and counseling his son to lie about his meeting with a Russian lawyer, would put him and his inner circle in legal jeopardy regardless of whether his involvement with Russia was illegal. Mueller's grand jury has issued subpoenas relating to the Trump Jr. meeting.
Trump spent months vigorously denying there was any collusion with Russia at all. Now, he is implicitly backing off this denial by switching to the claim there were no Russians directly working for his campaign.
The line might have been a crowd-pleaser among West Virginia Trump supporters. But it is a laughable distraction that will dissuade neither Mueller's team, nor the American people.