GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — President Trump returned to this Rust Belt city nearly 2½ years after he made it the final stop of his victorious presidential campaign, this time to declare a political triumph and reset his presidency as he looks ahead to 2020 – and back to 2016.

Buoyed by what he called the “beautiful conclusion” to the 22-month special counsel investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election, Trump arrived to a raucous welcome at a packed Van Andel Arena for a “Make America Great Again” rally he hoped would fortify his base and set a tone for his reelection effort.
“After three years of lies and spin and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. “The special counsel completed its report and found no collusion and no obstruction. I could have told you that 2½ years ago. Total exoneration. Complete vindication.”

Donald Trump

People cheer as President Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday. Manuel Balce Ceneta

Trump has felt emboldened since Attorney General William Barr sent Congress a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s report, finalized last week, of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr’s memo stated that Mueller did not “find” or “establish” a criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and Russian operatives.
Though Mueller did not make a determination over whether the president had sought to obstruct justice, Barr said his review of the report determined that Trump had not done so – a conclusion Democrats have called premature since the full report has not been delivered to Congress or made public.
The president cast the investigation as an attempt from Democrats, the media and the “deep state” intelligence community to overturn his election.
“It was nothing but a sinister effort. . .to sabotage the will of the American people,” Trump said.
The president and a bevy of White House aides, as well as some former campaign staffers, were in buoyant spirits as they departed Washington and traveled here aboard Air Force One.
As the president touched down on Marine One at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland, some familiar faces were waiting for him on the tarmac: former campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, whose presence lent the trip a nostalgic feel. The two men took photos and videos as Trump, donning his trademark solid red tie, boarded the presidential jet under a clear blue sky.
Trump had stopped in Grand Rapids in the early morning of Nov. 8, 2016, Election Day. It was a last-minute decision by his campaign team to stop in this crucial state, where his narrow victory helped power his upset over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. During that rally, which took place at 1 a.m., Trump had promised to bring back manufacturing jobs, including those in the auto industry, to Michigan – and told more than 4,000 supporters he would return to the state many times once he did.
Thursday’s rally was Trump’s sixth campaign event in Grand Rapids, but his first as president. He returned about a month after being elected as part of a victory tour.
Since taking office, however, Trump has struggled to deliver on the promise of jobs, however. The number of auto manufacturing jobs in the nation have risen by 51,000 to just over 1 million, a 5 percent increase since the president took office, according to an Associated Press fact check in February.
Van Andel Arena was full to capacity as Trump’s motorcade pulled up just after 6 p.m. The Trump campaign’s soundtrack blared from the sound system as the president met privately with supporters and donors ahead of his remarks. A giant American flag was set up inside the arena, along with signs reading, “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” and electronic billboards bearing the “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Campaign aides believe Michigan, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which Trump also won in 2016, remain crucial to his chances in 2020 – and his rally here was a signal that the president intends to campaign heavily through the region.
“Will be heading to Grand Rapids, Michigan, tonight for a Big Rally,” Trump wrote on Twitter before leaving the White House. “Will be talking about the many exciting things that are happening to our Country, but also the car companies & others, that are pouring back into Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North & South Carolina & all over!”
Democrats have demanded the release of Mueller’s full report, which numbers more than 300 pages. But Trump and his allies have sought to use Barr’s memo to declare victory and attack political rivals and mainstream media outlets. On Twitter, Trump asserted that Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigations, “should be forced to resign from Congress!” Trump also wrote: “The Fake News Media is going Crazy! They are suffering a major “breakdown,” have zero credibility or respect.”
Thousands of people lined up to try to get into Trump’s rally on Thursday afternoon, forming a blocks-long line that snaked through downtown Grand Rapids. A jumbo video screen was set up outside so that those who were not able to get tickets were able to watch the president’s remarks.
A couple hundred protesters also gathered outside the arena and many more gathered in park a few blocks away, rallying around a giant balloon depicting the president as a diaper-wearing baby.
Outside the arena, several protesters held signs that equated being a Trump supporter with white supremacy, including a woman with a sign that read: “Red hats are the new white hoods.” One man held a homemade sign written in red and blue markers that read: “STILL guilty of collusion.” A woman held a small sign that stated: “NOT exonerated.”