CNN town hall with former President Donald Trump

By Tori B. Powell, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT) June 1, 2023
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12:43 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Trump won't say if he believes Putin is a war criminal but does claim he "made a mistake" going in Ukraine

Former President Donald Trump gestures during a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall.
Former President Donald Trump gestures during a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former President Donald Trump would not say if he believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal in the context of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Trump said that is something that "should be discussed later."

"If you say he's a war criminal it's going to be a lot tougher to make a deal to get this thing stopped," he said. "If he's going to be a war criminal, people are going to grab him and execute him, he's going to fight a lot harder than he's fighting under the other circumstance. That's something to be discussed at a later day.”

The former president also said he thinks that "Putin made a mistake."

When asked to elaborate, Trump said, "His mistake was going in. He would have never gone in if I was president," referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

12:42 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Trump on Russia's war in Ukraine: "If I’m president, I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours"

Former President Donald Trump participates in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College.
Former President Donald Trump participates in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Kaitlyn Boissoneau, a Republican voter who will be voting for the first time in 2024, asked former President Donald Trump if he supports US military aid to Ukraine and how he would deal with the threat posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump said the war would not have happened if he were president.

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

Trump added that he would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and with Putin.

"They both have weaknesses and they both have strengths and within 24 hours that war will be settled. It'll be over, it'll be absolutely over," Trump said.

US aid to Ukraine: This week, the US announced a $1.2 billion aid package to Ukraine intended to “bolster its air defenses” and “sustain its artillery ammunition needs,” with Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces looming. 

With the new package announcement, the US has committed $37.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including $36.9 billion since the beginning of the war in February 2022.

12:40 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Trump doesn’t say whether he would sign federal abortion ban 

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Audience members watch as President Donald Trump participates in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
Audience members watch as President Donald Trump participates in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday would not say whether he would sign a federal abortion ban if reelected when pressed several times by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, but argued those in the anti-abortion movement are “in a very good negotiating position right now" because of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Trump said he would “make a determination what he thinks is great for the country and what's fair for the country” when asked if he would sign a federal abortion ban. 

“The fact I was able to terminate Roe v. Wade after 50 years of trying. They worked for 50 years — I’ve never seen anything like it. They worked, and I was even, I was so honored to have done it. We are in a very good negotiating position right now only because of what I was able to do,” Trump said.

As many states move to restrict abortion rights after the Supreme Court ruled there is no constitutional right to an abortion, Trump would not specify whether he would support a federal ban or at how many weeks during a pregnancy he would support a ban.

"I'm looking at a solution that's going to work. Very complex issue for the country. You have people on both sides of an issue, but we are now in a very strong position. Pro-life people are in a strong position to make a deal that's going to be good and going to be satisfactory for them. If you weren't able to get rid of, you wouldn't be having a discussion, if you weren't able to get rid of Roe V. Wade," Trump said.

More context: In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, many Republican-led states have enacted sweeping abortion restrictions. But unpopularity, demonstrated in some instances by electoral evidence, over severe restrictions has prompted Republicans to reconsider the political wisdom of enacting near-total bans on the procedure, and House Republicans have recently stepped away from pushing a federal abortion ban

12:37 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Trump defends Title 42 policy ahead of expected expiration tomorrow

Former President Donald Trump defended his Title 42 immigration policy and implied that he would handle the crisis at the US border with similar methods he used during his previous term.

Republican voter Jennifer Simmons asked, "Title 42 is expected to expire tomorrow. Our southern border and now our northern border are experiencing record migration. We learned on May 2 that the Biden administration plans on deploying 1,500 troops to the southern border. Do you agree with the deploying troops to the border, and how would a Trump administration slow down the rate of migrants coming across our borders?"

"This is my policy that they're letting terminate because they lost in court... You're going to have millions of people pouring into our country, right now, at a level that nobody has ever seen before," Trump claimed.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins then clarified that the conditions under which Title 42 was enacted was because of the Covid-19 pandemic. "The reason it's ending is because the health policy of the Covid era pandemic emergency is coming to an end. That's what Title 42 was. You put it in place because of Covid," Collins said.

Collins then pressed Trump on what his immigration policy would be if he was reelected, citing criticism of Republican lawmakers of his border wall plan.

"I did finish the wall. I built the wall, I built hundreds of miles of wall. And I finished it," Trump claimed. Collins noted that he actually only built 52 miles of new border wall.

Asked if he would reinstitute his controversial family separation policy, Trump said, "When you say to a family that, 'If you come we're going to break you up,' they don't come."

9:05 p.m. ET, May 10, 2023

Trump says he will protect 2nd Amendment if he's reelected

Former President Donald Trump said he will protect the Second Amendment and address mental health problems if reelected in 2024.

"It's not the gun that pulls the trigger, it's the person that pulls the trigger," he said Wednesday in response to a question from undeclared voter Bobby Petrino, who had voted for Trump in the past.

If elected, he said he would "do numerous things" to address mass shootings, including hiring more security guards for schools and what he called "hardening" entrances to establishments.

"You have to make schools safe," he said.

Trump also said that many people who do not own guns are "not going to be very safe."

Some background: There have been more than 200 mass shootings in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

President Joe Biden has taken more than 20 executive actions on guns since taking office, including regulating the use of “ghost guns” and sales of stabilizing braces that effectively turn pistols into rifles. He also signed a bipartisan bill in 2022 which expands background checks and provides federal funding for so-called “red flag laws” – although it failed to ban any weapons and fell far short of what Biden and his party had advocated for.

White House officials have been sober about the political realities Democrats face with the current makeup of Congress, where Republicans in control of the House have rejected Biden’s calls for an assault weapons ban. Even when both chambers of Congress were controlled by Democrats during the first two years of Biden’s term, an assault weapon ban gained little traction, in part because of a 60-vote threshold necessary for passage.

12:32 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Trump on debt ceiling: US should default if the White House does not agree to Republican spending cuts

Former President Donald Trump participates in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, May 10.
Former President Donald Trump participates in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, May 10. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Marta Saravia, an undeclared voter, asked former President Donald Trump what he thought of the debt situation and how the country can move forward.

"We have to start paying off debt ... I say to the Republicans out there — Congressmen, Senators — if they don't give you massive cuts, you're going to have to do a default, and I don't believe they're going to do a default because I think the Democrats will absolutely cave will absolutely cave because you don't want to have that happen, but it's better than what we're doing right now because we're spending money like drunken sailors," Trump said.

Collins asked Trump to clarify, asking him if he thinks the US should default if the White House does not agree to spending cuts the Republicans are demanding.

"Well you might as well do it now because you'll do it later because we have to save this country. Our country is dying. Our country is being destroyed by stupid people, by very stupid people," Trump said.

More context: The US hit the debt ceiling set by Congress in January. That forced the Treasury Department to begin taking extraordinary measures to keep the government paying its bills. And Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently warned that the US could default on its obligations as soon as June 1 if Congress doesn’t address the debt limit.  

The White House and GOP Republicans are in a standoff over how to resolve the issue. House Republicans want to attach spending reductions to a debt ceiling increase and have passed a debt limit plan that does just that. But Biden and congressional Democrats have insisted on passing a clean increase on the debt limit before addressing a framework for spending. 

A breach of the US debt ceiling risks sparking a 2008-style economic catastrophe that wipes out millions of jobs and sets America back for generations, Moody’s Analytics has warned. The impact could include delayed Social Security payments, late paychecks for federal employees and veterans and a direct hit to Americans’ investments. 

12:27 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Trump says his solution for easing economic hardship and inflation is drilling for more oil

Former President Donald Trump walks on stage to participate in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, May 10.
Former President Donald Trump walks on stage to participate in a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, May 10. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former President Donald Trump said that, if reelected, his solution to inflation in the country would be drilling for more oil in the US.

Danielle Rieger, a Republican activist, asked Trump, "If elected president again what is the first thing you will do to help bring down the cost to make things more affordable?"

"Drill, baby, drill," Trump responded. The former president then claimed that under his presidency, the country was energy independent and that the cost of gas went down to record lows.

He then claimed that the tax bill that passed during his term helped create,"the greatest economy in history."

9:36 p.m. ET, May 10, 2023

Trump again denies knowing E. Jean Carroll as he responds to civil jury verdict

Former President Donald Trump speaks with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in a CNN Republican Town Hall at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Former President Donald Trump speaks with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins in a CNN Republican Town Hall at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former President Donald Trump said he does not think a recent verdict in which a Manhattan federal jury found that he was liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll in a luxury department store dressing room disqualifies him from being president or will have an impact on women voters.

He denied knowing the columnist and denied the accusations. Trump ridiculed Carroll while discussing the trial, only a day after the verdict was handed down.

"A Manhattan jury found you sexually abused writer E. Jean You've denied this. But what do you say to voters who say it disqualifies you from being president?" CNN's Kaitlan Collins asked.

Trump answered that he didn't think there were many voters who would think that. He claimed that the case was made up and that it was all politically motivated. He repeated that he did not know Carroll, but said that he took a photo "years ago" with her and her husband.

"This woman, I don't know her. I never met her. I have no idea who she is," Trump said.

When asked if the jury's decision would deter women from voting for him, the former president said, "No, I don't think so."

Some context:  A Manhattan federal jury found Tuesday that Trump sexually abused Carroll in the spring of 1996 and awarded her $5 million for battery and defamation.

Carroll alleged Trump raped her in the Bergdorf Goodman department store and then defamed her when he denied her claim, said she wasn’t his type and suggested she made up the story to boost sales of her book. Trump denied all wrongdoing. He does not face any jail time as a result of the civil verdict.

While the jury found that Trump sexually abused her, sufficient to hold him liable for battery, the jury did not find that Carroll proved he raped her.

Carroll filed the lawsuit last November under the “New York State Adult Survivors Act,” a state bill that opened a look-back window for sexual assault allegations like Carroll’s with long-expired statutes of limitation.

12:26 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Trump says he will pardon "a large portion" of January 6 rioters

Former President Donald Trump holds notes of his tweets during a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Former President Donald Trump holds notes of his tweets during a CNN Republican Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Will Lanzoni/CNN

When asked by retired attorney Wayne Beyer whether or not he would pardon January 6 rioters convicted of federal offenses, former President Donald Trump said he would "most likely" do it should he win reelection in 2024.

"I am inclined to pardon many of them," he said Wednesday night.

Trump noted that he won't be able to pardon "every single one" but said "it will be a large portion of them."