Ex-United States President Donald Trump’s appearance on CNN’s town hall was the first time in years that he faced prolonged questioning from a news outlet outside the friendly confines of conservative media.
Trump’s participation in the public forum on Wednesday came as he turns his focus to a potential 2024 general election rematch with Democrat Joe Biden.
The audience, made up of Republicans and independents, was largely favourable to Trump and laughed and cheered as he made his points.
“I like you guys,” Trump told the crowd at the end.
Here’s what Trump had to say:
Suggests US government should default on debt
While the battle over raising the US debt ceiling has analysts warning of “catastrophic” repercussions for the global economy if Washington defaults, Trump suggested it should not happen unless the Democrats agreed to “massive” spending cuts.
“We might as well do it now because you’ll do it later. Because we have to save this country. Our country is being destroyed by stupid people, by very stupid people.
“It’s really psychological more than anything else. And it could be really bad, it could be maybe nothing, maybe it’s a bad week, or a bad day, who knows?” Trump said.
“I say to the Republicans out there, congressmen, senators, if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re gonna have to do a default.”
Questions on sex abuse case
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 $5m in damages. The jury rejected her claim of rape and instead found Trump responsible for a lesser degree of sexual abuse. Trump denied it, saying he never encountered Carroll at a department store in 1996 and did not know her, and has said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Trump, when asked by CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins about the verdict, said his poll numbers went up and repeated his statements that he did not 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 said, calling her a “whack job”.
Treatment of women
Collins asked Trump about his comments in the infamous Access Hollywood video in which he bragged about grabbing women’s genitals without asking permission. The video was played in the trial and Collins asked him if he stood by his remarks.
Trump defended his comments saying he had said women let him grab their genitals without permission because he was a star.
“I can’t take that back because it happens to be true,” Trump said.
Repeating election claims
Trump, with his first question from Collins about why he should be elected again, started almost immediately by repeating his unfounded claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
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 Biden.
Trump did not, immediately returning to his false claims.
Defence of January 6 insurrection
For more than two years, Trump was asked if he regretted his actions on that day.
The former president quickly began boasting about the size of the crowd he spoke to before some began marching on the US 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 did not 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.
He said he was inclined, if re-elected as president, to pardon many of those convicted for their roles in the violence. More than 1,000 people have been charged and more than 600 have been convicted so far.
No answers on Ukraine
Trump repeated his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him “a smart guy”, but said “he made a bad mistake” to invade Ukraine. Trump claimed, without evidence or explanation, that if he was still president, Putin would never have invaded Ukraine. He said he had “a great relationship” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, referencing his 2019 impeachment after pressuring Zelenskyy for “a favour” while withholding military aid.
Trump would not answer a question about whether he would continue to send US aid to Ukraine to keep fighting against Russia’s invasion, and he would not answer a question about who he wanted to win the war, only saying, “I want everybody to stop dying.”
Keeping classified documents
Trump defended his keeping of top-secret and confidential government documents at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, which is now the subject of a Justice Department probe.
“I had every right to do it. I didn’t make a secret of it,” Trump said.
Trump noted other presidents and vice presidents had kept documents after leaving office but did not mention that he refused to turn over documents even after receiving a subpoena.
Trump, responding to a question about the US Supreme Court overturning abortion rights last year, took credit for appointing three of the justices who joined in the majority ruling, saying, “It was such a great victory and people are starting to understand it now.”
He repeatedly falsely claimed abortion rights supporters wanted to “kill a baby” in the ninth month of pregnancy or even after a birth. The claim is based on a misleading interpretation of a Senate vote. Trump also dodged questions about whether, if elected president again, he would sign a national abortion ban.
“What I will do is negotiate so people are happy,” he said, when asked if he would sign a federal abortion ban. He repeatedly said he would “do what’s right” – without specifying what that was.