• Sun. May 14th, 2023

Donald Trump CNN town hall goes off the rails

A CNN town hall on Wednesday night descended into vintage Donald Trump territory as the former president hijacked the event and ran roughshod over moderator Kaitlan Collins, sparking outrage from Democrats and cheers from his supporters.

Mr Trump, a day after being found liable by a New York jury for the sexual abuse of magazine columnist E Jean Carroll in the mid-1990s, clashed with Collins throughout the New Hampshire event, at one point calling her a “nasty person”.

“No questions are off the table, and we agreed to no conditions,” Collins told viewers at the beginning.

The 76-year-old’s sarcastic quips and jabs repeatedly drew laughter from the friendly crowd of Republicans and undecided voters at St. Anselm College, with some on the left criticising the network for failing to maintain control and turning into “Trump TV”.

“CNN should be ashamed of itself,” tweeted Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“They have lost total control of this ‘town hall’ to again be manipulated into platforming election disinformation, defenses of Jan 6th, and a public attack on a sexual abuse victim. The audience is cheering him on and laughing at the host.”

Addressing Tuesday’s sexual abuse finding, Mr Trump mockingly recounted Carroll’s story of being assaulted inside the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan, as the audience laughed.

“I met her in the front door of Bergdorf Goodman, I was immediately attracted to her and she was immediately attracted to me, we had this great chemistry, and a few minutes later we end up in a dressing room right near the cash register,” he said.

“What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes you’re playing hanky panky in a dressing room?”

In another exchange about the January 6 Capitol riot, Collins asked Mr Trump, “Why did it take you three hours to tell them to go home?”

“I don’t believe it did — hold on, let me pull it out,” he replied, producing a piece of paper from his jacket to cheers from the audience.

He then read out his tweets from January 5 and January 6. “On January 5th I said, ‘Please support our Capitol Police and law enforcement, they are truly on the side of our country. Stay peaceful,’” he said.

“January 6th, before 2.30. ‘I am asking for everyone at the US Capitol to remain peaceful.’ This is right as it was happening. But what happened is they [Twitter] took it down. I don’t know why. I think they took it down because it was so good, they didn’t like it being up there. ‘We want no violence. Remember, we are the party of law and order. Respect the law and our great men and women in blue.’ That was at 2.30. That was very early.”

Mr Trump also refused to say that he wanted Ukraine to win the war against Russia.

“If I’m president I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours,” he said.

“I’ll meet with Putin, I’ll meet with Zelensky. They both have weaknesses, they both have strengths, and within 24 hours that war will be settled. I don’t think in terms of winning and losing, I think in terms of getting it settled so we stop killing all of these people.”

“Can you say if you want Ukraine or Russia to win this war?” Collins asked again.

“I want everybody to stop dying,” he replied. “They’re dying, Russians and Ukrainians, I want them to stop dying. And I’ll have that done in 24 hours.”

Responding to another question about the US debt situation, Mr Trump warned that “we have to save this country, our country is being destroyed by very stupid people”.

“You once said that using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge just could not happen, you said that when you were in the Oval Office,” Collins said.

“Sure, that’s when I was president,” Mr Trump said.

“So why is it different now that you’re out of office?” Collins asked.

“Because now I’m not president,” he quipped, drawing laughter from the audience.

Collins also grilled Mr Trump over documents that were seized during a raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate in August.

A clearly frustrated Mr Trump claimed he had “every right” to possess the records under the Presidential Records Act, but Collins, at points trying to talk over him, told him several times “that’s not true”.

When she asked if he had shown the records to anyone, Mr Trump replied, “Not really,” and when Collins pressed him again, the former president said, “Not that I can think of.”

She then asked Mr Trump “why you held on to those documents when you knew the federal government was seeking them and given you a subpoena to return them”.

“Can I talk? Do you mind?” he snapped as the crowd jeered. “It’s very simple to answer.”

“That’s why I asked it,” Collins responded.

“You are a nasty person, I tell you,” he told Collins as the audience cheered.

The hour-long event was slammed by a number of liberal journalists.

“I thought this #CNNTownhall with Trump would be bad but it’s much worse than I thought it would be,” MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan tweeted. “The lack of follow-ups. The audience on his side. The mocking of a victim of sexual abuse. Sheesh.”

The New York Times’ 1619 Project author Nikole Hannah-Jones said CNN was “massively ill-equipped for this”.

The Daily Beast’s Washington bureau chief Matt Fuller called it an “irresponsible disaster of journalism”.

Former CNN host and media reporter Brian Stelter cut Collins some slack, noting she’s a “great journalist” who had “been assigned an impossible task”.

Mr Trump’s campaign released a statement following the event, which officially kicked off the Republican primary race ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

“Tonight, President Donald J. Trump laid out his vision to reverse the Biden Decline starting on Day One,” his campaign said.

“Joe Biden has turned everything into a disaster: inflation, the economy, the border, crime, energy, China, Russia and wokeness in schools.

“President Trump will save the economy, bring down inflation, secure the border, crush the Deep State and prevent World War 3.”

The campaign added that he is “the only one who can stop the forces from destroying our country — anyone else will be ripped to shreds”.

Mr Trump is vying for the White House for a third time following his successful presidential run in 2016 and his 2020 loss to President Biden.


— with NY Post

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