Key takeaways from Trump's CNN town hall
The former president stuck to his claims that the 2020 election was "rigged" against him.
At a Wednesday night town hall with Republican and undecided voters in New Hampshire, former President Donald Trump continued to peddle false claims that voter fraud cost him victory in the 2020 election, stood by his assertion that "stars" have historically been allowed to sexually abuse women and encouraged congressional Republicans to allow the U.S. to default on its debt.
CNN's decision to give Trump a platform at St. Anselm College for his 2024 presidential campaign has drawn scathing criticism, including from retired D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone, who was injured after Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, to try to block the peaceful transition of power following Trump's loss to Joe Biden.
"It is not just that Trump’s lies and political rhetoric sparked an uprising at our nation’s Capitol. Trump, as U.S. president, lied in an effort to defraud the American people and overturn a free and fair election in an attempt to remain in power," Fanone wrote in a piece published by Yahoo News partner Rolling Stone.
Trump not only sought to subvert American democracy with bogus claims of voter fraud, he has also regularly attacked the judiciary, vowed revenge on his political enemies if reelected, been indicted for tax crimes, found liable by a jury for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll, and has waged an all out war with CNN — where he has not appeared since 2016 — for years.
Despite those issues, CNN plowed ahead with the town hall; network executive David Zaslav defended the decision, saying Trump is the GOP "frontrunner." A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released in April showed Trump leading Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup 52%-32%.
Here are the key takeaways from the town hall:
More election falsehoods
Moderator Kaitlan Collins started by noting that Trump had not publicly acknowledged his loss to Biden in 2020.
"When you look at that result and you look at what happened during that election, unless you're a very stupid person, you see what happened," Trump responded, adding, "Most people understand what happened: That was a rigged election."
"It was not a rigged election," Collins countered. "It was not a stolen election; you and your supporters lost more than 60 court cases on the election. It's been more than two and a half years; can you publicly acknowledge that you lost the 2020 election?"
Trump could not, and instead insisted, without evidence, that proof of fraud had been caught on government cameras.
A voter then asked Trump if he would stop "polarizing talk of election fraud during your run for president."
"Yeah," Trump responded. "Unless I see election fraud."
Jan. 6 pardons
Trump described the crowd that gathered on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C., heard him speak and marched to the Capitol to try to block the certification of Joe Biden as president as having "love in their heart."
"My question to you is, will you would pardon the Jan. 6 rioters who were convicted of federal offenses?" a Republican voter asked Trump.
"I am inclined to pardon many of them. I can't say for every single one, because some of them, probably, they got out of control," Trump said before trying to draw a comparison to Antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters, who he claimed had ruined American cities. "You have two standards of justice in this country."
Collins asked Trump whether the four members of the Proud Boys who were recently convicted of seditious conspiracy would be on Trump's pardon list.
"I don't know. I'd have to look at their case, but I will say in Washington, D.C., you cannot get a fair trial. You cannot get a fair trial. Just like in New York City you can't get a fair trail," Trump said, to applause from his audience.
'That's true with stars'
Collins picked up on Trump's remark about New York City trials, asking him about Tuesday's verdict that he was liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll.
Trump stood by his assertion that he "never met" and "never saw" Carroll, even while conceding that he took a picture with her and her husband John Johnson.
Collins brought up the videotaped deposition Trump gave to Carroll's lawyers in which he defended his infamous "Access Hollywood" comment about being able to grab women in the genitals because he was a "star." During his deposition, Trump stated that "unfortunately or fortunately," stars had always been able to get away with such behavior.
"Do you stand by those comments?" Collins asked.
"I said, if you're if you're famous and rich or whatever I said, but I said you're a star, you are, and I said, 'women let you,'" Trump said. "I didn't say you grab, I said 'women let.' They said, 'Will you take that back?' I said, 'Look, for a million years, this is the way it's been. I want to be honest. This is the way it's been.' I can take it back if you'd like to."
Encouraged Republicans to allow the U.S. to default on debt
Asked by a voter what he thought of the debt situation and how the country should move forward, Trump signaled his approval of allowing the U.S. to default.
"I say to the Republicans out there, congressmen, senators, if they don't give you massive cuts, you're going to have to do a default," Trump said, adding that "I think the Democrats will absolutely cave."
The consensus view among economists is that a debt default would trigger an economic catastrophe. Pressed by Collins on whether Republicans should be prepared to refuse to lift the debt ceiling unless their demands are met, Trump was resolute.
"You might as well do it now, because you'll do it later."
Collins pointed out Trump's prior opposition to using the debt ceiling to negotiate and asked him what was different now.
"Because now I'm not president," Trump responded.
Waffled on federal abortion ban
Trump struggled to answer Collins' repeated question as to whether he would sign a national ban on abortion.
Declaring the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade "a great victory," Trump declined to state he would sign a national ban.
"What I will do is negotiate so that people are happy," Trump said.
That answer didn't satisfy Collins. "You would sign an abortion ban into law?" Collins pressed.
"I want to do what's right," Trump responded, "and we're looking."
"Where is President Trump" on the issue? Collins asked again.
"President Trump is going to make a determination what he thinks is great for the country and what he thinks is fair for the country," he said.
Friendly Republican audience and clashes with 'nasty person' Collins
Throughout the event, Trump received applause and support from the largely Republican audience. He told jokes and often appeared to be controlling the pace of the proceedings. That was especially true during a relatively heated exchange with Collins over his handling of classified documents and their storage at his Mar-a-Lago estate, in alleged violation of the Presidential Records Act. While that subject could yet result in another criminal indictment for Trump, during the town hall it will be remembered because he insulted Collins over her dogged attempts to get him to answer her questions.
Collins asked Trump about holding onto "those documents, when you knew the federal government was seeking them and had given you a subpoena to return them."
"Are you ready? Are you ready?" Trump responded. "Can I talk?"
"Yeah," Collins said, "What's the answer?"
"Do you mind?" Trump shot back.
"I would like for you to answer the question," she said.
"It's very simple to answer it," Trump interjected.
"That's why I asked it," Collins responded.
"You're a nasty person, I tell you," Trump said, eliciting laughter and applause.