NEW YORK — Donald Trump primetime returns to CNN on Wednesday for the first time since 2016 feels like a throwback: Trump with long, convoluted answers; interviewers sometimes struggle to check facts or get their focus back on the question at hand; and then, finally, the two talk to each other as Trump insults him.
Wednesday's town hall in New Hampshire was the first time in years Trump faced prolonged questioning from outlets outside the friendly confines of his preferred conservative media outlets.
He has branded CNN “fake news” and never gave interviews to its journalists while serving as president. Trump's campaign says he's appearing online now to step outside the GOP comfort zone as he has started to shift his focus to a potential 2024 re-election rematch with Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump's appearance on CNN comes at a time of jarring duality for the former president: Republicans face the height of legal troubles but appear to be in a stronger position than ever to become his party's nominee for president. He seeks to reach mainstream media audiences although it has deepened its embrace of extremists since leaving the White House, it continues to align himself with those involved in the death of January 6, 2021rebellion and dined with a white nationalist who denies the Holocaust.
Here's what to know CNN Trump town hall:
QUESTIONS IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASES
Trump's appearance came the day after a New York jury found him liable for sexual assault a woman almost 30 years ago and slandered her when she talked about it in public.
The jury awarded columnist E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages. The jury dismissed her rape claim and instead found Trump responsible for a lesser degree of sexual assault. Trump has denied this, saying he never met Carroll at a department store in 1996 and did not know her and said he plans to appeal the ruling.
Trump skipped attending the trial and did not testify in his own defense during the trial, with jurors instead being shown video of his pretrial deposition, making Wednesday the first time he has had to face public questioning in the case.
Trump, when asked by CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins about the verdict, said his poll numbers were up and repeated his statement that he did not know Carroll, even though at least one photo of them appeared together.
“I do not know him. I never met him. I dont know who he is.” She dismissed questions from Collins about whether it would affect her position with women voters and in response, and she recounted Carroll's claims in a mocking voice, drawing laughter and applause from the live audience. Collins tried to interrupt, but Trump continued and called it a “fake story” and called Carroll a “crazy job”.
TRUMP'S TREATMENT OF WOMEN
Collins asked Trump about his comments in the famous “Access Hollywood” video in which he bragged about grabbing a woman's genitals without asking permission. Video was played at the trial and Collins asked him on Wednesday if he stood by his statement.
Trump defended his comments, saying he said women let him touch their genitals without permission because he was a star.
“I can't take it back because it's true,” Trump said.
ELECTION LIE REPEATED
Trump, with his first question from Collins about why he should be re-elected, immediately began by repeating his lies about the 2020 presidential election and repeating baseless claims of election fraud.
In a quieter tone than he normally uses on stage to cheering supporters, Trump called it a “fraudulent election” and “disgraceful” before Collins cut him off, correcting his remarks and asking him to publicly admit his loss to Biden.
Trump didn't, right back to his bogus claims. As Collins continues to try to fact-check Trump, he interrupts again, calling for a fair election and then moving on to other topics like immigration.
He returns to his claims at another point in the town hall, sprinkling lies into answers on an unrelated subject and prompting Collins to interrupt and correct him.
JAN'S DEFENSE 6 Rebellion
For more than two years, Trump has largely avoided sitting down for tough questions about the lies he spread about his 2020 election loss that sparked the deadly insurrection in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. But the problem arose Wednesday morning, when Collins asked Trump whether he regretted his actions on that day.
The former president quickly started boasting about the number of people he spoke to before several began marching on the Capitol and said attendees believed the election was “rigged”.
“They are proud there. They are there with love in their hearts. It was incredible and it was a beautiful day,” Trump said.
Collins pressed Trump about why he didn't ask his supporters to leave the Capitol or send aid to disperse the protesters, and he veered, trying to blame then-President Nancy Pelosi. He at one point pulled out a hard copy of his Twitter post that day in which he finally, hours after the attack on the Capitol began, called on his supporters to leave the Capitol.
He said he was inclined, if elected president again, to spare many of those convicted for their role in the January 6 attacks. More than 1,000 people have been charged and more than 600 have been convicted so far.
FALSE ABORTION CLAIMS
Trump, responding to a question about the US Supreme Court overturning abortion rights last year, praised the appointment of three judges who joined the majority decision, saying “it was a tremendous victory and people are starting to understand it now.”
She has repeatedly falsely claimed that abortion rights advocates want to “kill the baby” in the ninth month of pregnancy or even after giving birth. The claim is based on a misleading interpretation of the Senate vote. Trump also avoided questions about whether, if elected president again, he would sign up to a nationwide abortion ban. Trump has instead spoken of court rulings having given anti-abortion activists “negotiation ability.”
“What I'm going to do is negotiate to keep people happy,” he said, when asked if he would sign a federal abortion ban. He repeatedly said he would “do what is right,” without explaining what that was.
NO ANSWER ON UKRAINE
Trump repeated his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him a “smart guy”, but said “he made a huge mistake” by invading Ukraine. Trump claims, without evidence or explanation, that had he still been president, Putin would never have invaded Ukraine. He said he had a “good relationship” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, referring to his impeachment in 2019 after pressing Zelenskyy for “aid” while withholding military aid.
Trump would not answer questions about whether he would continue to send US aid to Ukraine to continue fighting against a Russian invasion, and he would not answer questions about who he wanted to win the war, saying only, “I want everyone to stop dying.”
SAVE CLASSIFICATION DOCUMENTS
Trump defended the safekeeping of top-secret and top-secret government documents at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, which is now the subject of a Justice Department investigation.
“I have the right to do it. I'm not keeping it a secret,” Trump said.
Trump gave a vague answer when Collins asked him if he had ever shown the secret documents to anyone.
“Not really. I would have the right to that,” said the former president.
“What do you mean ‘Not really?'” Collins asked.
“That's not what I can think of,” Trump said.
Trump noted that other presidents and vice presidents had kept documents after leaving but did not mention that he had refused to turn over documents even after receiving subpoenas.
SPARRING WITH COLLINS
Early on in town hall, Collins gave Trump more leeway to answer questions, allowing the president to drill down his answers and jump from topic to topic, throwing out bogus claims when he occasionally tried to interrupt. As town hall runs and Collins comes in earlier and more frequently to correct him or get him back on track, Trump grows frustrated.
At one point, he repeated an insult he hurled at Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential debate, calling Collins “mean”.
Going back and forth about classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Trump and Collins spoke to one another and Trump at one point stated: “You are so wrong. You don't know the topic.”
“I know the subject,” he replied.
The audience, consisting of both Republicans and independents, largely cheered Trump and laughed and cheered as he made his points.
“I like you guys,” Trump told the crowd at the end of the event.