Takeaways from town hall: Trump says sexual assault case was ‘fake,’ calls Jan. 6 ‘a beautiful day’
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s primetime appearance in a live CNN town hall Wednesday had the former president and 2024 presidential candidate doubling down on his false claims as he faced tough questions in an interview for the first time in years after largely sticking to friendly conservative media outlets.
Wednesday’s town hall marked Trump’s first appearance on CNN since 2016. He had branded the network “fake news” and never granted any of its journalists an interview while president. Trump’s campaign said he was appearing on the network to step outside of a GOP comfort zone as he already starts to turn his focus to a potential 2024 general election rematch with Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump’s appearance on CNN comes at a time of jarring dualities for the former president: The Republican is facing a crescendo of legal problems yet seems in a stronger position than ever to become his party’s presidential nominee, and he’s attempting to reach mainstream media viewers despite having deepened his embrace of extremists since leaving the White House.
Here’s what to know about Trump’s CNN town hall:
QUESTIONS ON SEXUAL ASSAULT
Trump’s appearance came a day after a New York jury found him liable for sexually abusing a woman nearly 30 years ago and defaming her when she spoke about it publicly.
Jurors awarded columnist E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages. The jury rejected her claim of rape and instead found Trump responsible for a lesser degree of sexual assault. Trump denied it, saying he never encountered Carroll at a 1996 department store and did not know her and has said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Trump skipped attending the trial and did not testify in his own defense during the proceedings, with jurors instead being shown video from a pretrial deposition, making Wednesday the first time he’s had to face a public questioning in the case.
Trump, when asked by moderator Kaitlan Collins about the verdict, said his poll numbers went up and repeated his statements that he didn’t know Carroll, though at least one photograph has surfaced of them together.
“I don’t know her. I never met her. I had no idea who she is.” He dismissed a question about Collins about whether it would impact his standing with female voters and in response, he launched into a recounting of Carroll’s claims in a mocking voice, drawing laughs and claps from the live audience. Collins tried to interrupt but Trump continued and called it “a fake story” and referred to Carroll as “a wack job.”
REPEATING ELECTION LIES
Trump, with his first question from Collins about why he should be elected again, started almost immediately by repeating his lies about the 2020 presential election and repeating his unfounded claims of election fraud.
Striking a more muted tone than he usually uses on stage before his cheering supporters, Trump called it a “rigged election” and a “shame” before Collins cut him off, correcting his statements and asking him to publicly acknowledge his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump did not, immediately returning to his claims. As Collins continued to try to fact check Trump, he interrupted again, calling for honest elections and then pivoting to other subjects like immigration.
DEFENSE OF JAN. 6 INSURRECTION
Trump, after shunning tough questioning for years, returned to a mainstream network for the first time since spreading lies about his 2020 election loss that spurred deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Collins asked Trump if he regretted his actions on Jan. 6, and the former president quickly began praising the size of the crowd he spoke to that day before some began marching on the Capitol and said the attendees believed the election was “rigged.”
“They were there proud. They were there with love in their heart. That was unbelievable and it was a beautiful day,” Trump said.
Collins pressed Trump on why he didn’t ask his supporters to leave the Capitol or send help to disperse the protesters, and he deflected, trying to cast blame on then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He at one point pulled out printed copies of his Twitter posts that day in which he finally, hours after the attack on the Capitol began, asked his supporters to leave the Capitol.