Trump jokes about sexual assault finding and repeats 2020 election falsehoods at town hall

Former president says US should default on its debt

Former US president Donald Trump appeared on CNN. AFP
Powered by automated translation

An unrepentant Donald Trump repeated past grievances at the first televised town hall of the 2024 US presidential election, making clear he has little intention of mounting a more disciplined campaign for his third White House bid.

In a contentious 70-minute broadcast late on Wednesday, Mr Trump drew laughter from a mainly Republican New Hampshire audience when he mocked writer E Jean Carroll's account of sexual abuse.

He also repeated falsehoods about his 2020 election loss, said he would pardon many of his supporters convicted of taking part in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, and called his CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person”.

Responding to questions from Collins and members of the audience at Saint Anselm College, Mr Trump made no effort to offer more moderate positions on issues, which political analysts say is key to broadening his appeal to a wider swath of Republicans.

Asked by Collins whether he would acknowledge that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020, the Republican Mr Trump reasserted unfounded claims that the election was rigged against him, brushing aside her attempts to correct the record.

“That was a rigged election,” Mr Trump said. Anyone who thought otherwise was “stupid”, he added.

Mr Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination, declined to express regret for the deadly attack on the US Capitol when supporters sought to prevent Congress from ratifying the election result. He repeated his plan to pardon individuals involved if voters return him to the White House in 2024.

“I am inclined to pardon many of them. I can't say for every single one because a couple of them, probably, they got out of control,” Mr Trump said.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. AFP

He also urged Republican legislators to refuse to raise the US debt limit, triggering a default, if Mr Biden's Democrats don't agree to spending cuts.

“I say that the Republicans out there — congressmen, senators — if they don't give you massive cuts, you're gonna have to do a default,” Mr Trump said during the live appearance on CNN.

Mr Trump and Collins frequently spoke over each other, with Collins challenging a number of the former president's false claims about both the 2020 election and the January 6 attack, which followed a speech he gave to supporters outside the White House that day.

“I've never spoken to a crowd as large as that, and that was because they thought the election was rigged. They were there with love in their heart. That was unbelievable, and it was a beautiful day,” he said.

The audience of Republicans and independent voters who plan to vote in the Republican primary were generally supportive of Mr Trump, giving him a standing ovation when he took the stage.

New Hampshire is an early nominating state that could prove critical in his bid to return to the White House.

Responding to Mr Trump's remarks, the Democratic National Committee said the former president “lied about the 2020 election” for 20 minutes and criticised his characterising January 6, 2021, as “a beautiful day”.

“This would be disgusting if it wasn't so dangerous,” DNC spokesman Ammar Moussa said.

On Tuesday, a federal jury found Trump sexually abused Carroll in a department store dressing room in Manhattan in the 1990s, then harmed her reputation by describing her claims as “a hoax” and “a lie”.

“What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes, you're playing hanky-panky in a dressing room?” Mr Trump said, one of many disparaging comments about Carroll that elicited applause and laughter. He called her a “wack job”.

Mr Trump, who was absent throughout the two-week trial, was asked by an audience member what he had to say to voters who say it disqualifies him from being president.

“Well, there aren't too many of them because my poll numbers just came out. They went up,” he said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: May 11, 2023, 8:21 AM