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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12:15 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Here are some takeaways from Trump’s CNN town hall in New Hampshire

From CNN's Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner

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

The 2024 presidential campaign is only beginning, but former President Donald Trump made clear that his third bid for the White House will feel very much like the first two.

Trump might be trying a new tack in this campaign, running what is, to date, a more conventional race with less internal drama. But when pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, the 76-year-old showed on Wednesday night that he is very much the same person Americans came to know in 2016, throughout his four years in office, and in the aftermath of his 2020 election defeat.

Unsurprisingly, the mostly Trump-loyal audience lapped it up. Trump’s place in the GOP primary polls, as he often mentioned, is strong. In New Hampshire on Wednesday night, he showed why.

Here are some takeaways from Trump’s CNN town hall:

Trump says GOP should be willing to blow up debt ceiling: The US is on the brink of a catastrophic default on its sovereign debt. Asked what his advice is to Republicans in Washington, Trump was clear. “If they don’t give you massive cuts,” he said, “you’re going to have to do a default.” The US hit the debt ceiling set by Congress in January. That forced the Treasury Department to begin taking so-called 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.

Trump makes dismissive comments about Carroll: A little more than 24 hours after a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll, and awarded her $5 million, the former president denied the accusations and again said he had never met Carroll. “This woman, I don’t know her. I never met her. I have no idea who she is,” Trump said, before going off on an odd tangent about her former husband and a pet.

Trump also brushed off a question over whether the verdict would hurt his standing with female voters, saying he doubted it. The reaction from the Trump-friendly audience appeared to support his opinion – they laughed at his jokes and other dismissive comments about Carroll.

Trump doesn’t say if he would back Ukraine in war with Russia: Trump refused to say whether he wanted Ukraine to prevail in its war with invading Russia.“I don’t think in terms of winning and losing,” he said, “I think in terms of getting it settled so we stop killing all these people.” Asked to choose a side he would prefer to win, Trump again demurred. “I want everyone to stop dying,” he said before promising to end the war in “24 hours.”

Trump suggests family separation immigration policy could return: Trump said he would return to one of the harshest immigration enforcement policies imposed by his administration: separating migrant families at the US-Mexico border. “When you say to a family that if you come, we’re going to break you up, they don’t come,” Trump said. His comments come as Title 42, the Trump-era pandemic public health restriction that became a key tool officials used to expel migrants at the US-Mexico border, is set to expire Thursday.

Trump was vague on federal abortion ban: Trump repeatedly ducked questions about whether he would sign into law a federal abortion ban, as well as questions regarding after how many weeks into a pregnancy abortion should be made illegal. He touted the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade’s federal abortion rights as “such a great victory” – and one made possible by his appointment of three conservative justices. Trump said he supports exemptions to abortion bans for cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is threatened. “We now have a great negotiating ability, and I think we’re going to be able to get something done,” Trump said.

Read more takeaways from tonight's town hall here and read our team's fact checks here.

11:54 p.m. ET, May 10, 2023

Trump has a history of insulting women by calling them "nasty"

Analysis by CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Former President Donald Trump points at CNN's Kaitlan Collins during the town hall.
Former President Donald Trump points at CNN's Kaitlan Collins during the town hall. John Nowak/CNN

One of the many jarring moments during CNN's town hall with former President Donald Trump occurred when the moderator, CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins, was asking Trump why he held on to classified documents when he left the White House. The FBI later recovered them from Mar a Lago by executing a search warrant.

When Collins pointed out that the difference between Trump and Joe Biden, who also faces questions about classified documents found at his house but who didn't ignore a subpoena, Trump interrupted her.

"Are you ready? Can I talk?" Trump demanded. "Do you mind?"

"Yeah, I would like for you to answer the question. That's why I asked it," Collins said.  

"It's very simple that you're a nasty person, I'll tell you," Trump said, attempting to insult her as his supporters in the crowd cheered.

"Can you answer why you held on to the documents?" Collins asked again, at which point Trump launched into a rambling answer that boils down to he was negotiating with the National Archives during the year-plus when the government was seeking them.

It's the insult to Collins' face, calling her "nasty," that was jarring. And the cheering crowd made it more so.

The word has long been a favorite insult of Trump's, often hurled at women who frustrate him.

He called Hillary Clinton a "nasty woman" at the close of the final presidential debate in 2016.

He's used it on Vice President Kamala Harris and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Of Meghan Markle, who had criticized him, in 2019, Trump told a British newspaper, "I didn't know that she was nasty."

After he hurled the insult at Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen later that summer, the Washington Post's Aaron Blake documented 14 times Trump had used the insult to describe a woman. He found even more instances of Trump using the word to describe a man, although some of those appeared to be complements.

11:39 p.m. ET, May 10, 2023

Fact check: Trump's claims about the classified documents he took to Mar-a-Lago

From CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz

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

Former President Donald Trump claimed that the classified documents from the White House were “automatically declassified” when he took them to Mar-a-Lago.

Facts First: There is no evidence to back up this assertion. Trump and his team have not provided any proof that Trump actually conducted some sort of broad declassification of the documents that ended up at Mar-a-Lago – and, so far, his lawyers notably have not argued in their court filings that Trump did so.

The Justice Department said in an August 2022 court filing that Trump’s representatives never asserted that documents had been declassified—not in January 2022 when they voluntarily turned over 15 boxes that included 184 unique documents with classification markings, nor in June 2022 when Trump’s team responded to a subpoena by returning another batch that included 38 additional unique documents with classification markings.

In addition, 18 former top Trump administration officials, including two former White House chiefs of staff who spoke on the record, told CNN at the time that they never heard of a standing Trump declassification order when they were serving in the administration and that they now believe the claim is false. The former officials used words like “ludicrous,” “ridiculous” and “bullsh*t.”

“Total nonsense,” said one person who served as a senior White House official. “If that’s true, where is the order with his signature on it? If that were the case, there would have been tremendous pushback from the Intel Community and DoD, which would almost certainly have become known to Intel and Armed Services Committees on the Hill.”

11:37 p.m. ET, May 10, 2023

Some New Hampshire voters say Trump focused too much on 2020 election and should instead look forward

A group of eight undeclared voters from New Hampshire.
A group of eight undeclared voters from New Hampshire. Source: CNN

Undeclared and Republican voters from New Hampshire, who were in the audience for the CNN town hall with Donald Trump, said that the former president should have focused more on the future instead of the 2020 election.

CNN asked voters about their thoughts on Trump's overall performance as well. Out of eight audience members participating in the post-town hall discussion, only one said that they would vote for Trump in 2024. The rest said they remain undecided.

Watch the full discussion here:

1:27 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Fact check: Trump's comments about violence during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol

From CNN staff

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

Former President Donald Trump asserted Wednesday night that “a couple” of the January 6 rioters “probably got out of control,” comparing the insurrection to left-leaning protests that turned violent in other cities.

Facts First: This statement is false. Hundreds of rioters have been charged with violence toward police on January 6 and Trump downplaying of the violence and equivocating the insurrection with social justice protests fails to recognize the severity of the attack on the Capitol.

The January 6 riot of by Trump supporters who overran the Capitol has resulted in the largest law enforcement response in modern history – because of the sheer amount of violence on the ground, especially toward police, that day.

The number of rioters who’ve been charged with violence toward police is in the hundreds.

According to the Justice Department this week, 346 people face federal charges for assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or other employees. That includes more than 100 people charged with using a weapon or causing serious injury to an officer. About five dozen have pleaded guilty to felony charges for these types of crimes.

And the FBI is still seeking information to identify more than 220 others who may have committed violent crimes on the Capitol grounds.

Even Trump-appointed federal judges have countered claims that left-leaning rioters in Portland, for instance, acted similarly to the pro-Trump crowd on January 6.

Judge Trevor McFadden wrote when handling a January 6 rioter’s case in 2021: “Although both Portland and January 6 rioters attacked federal buildings, the Portland defendants primarily attacked at night, meaning that they raged against a largely vacant courthouse. In contrast, the January 6 rioters attacked the Capitol in broad daylight. And many entered it.”

And another federal judge in DC, Carl Nichols, wrote: “The Portland rioters’ conduct, while obviously serious, did not target a proceeding prescribed by the Constitution and established to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Nor did the Portland rioters, unlike those who assailed America’s Capitol in 2021, make it past the buildings’ outer defenses.”

12:04 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

How the Biden camp views Trump's CNN town hall performance

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

President Joe Biden speaks on the debt limit during an event at SUNY Westchester Community College on Wednesday, May 10, in Valhalla, New York.
President Joe Biden speaks on the debt limit during an event at SUNY Westchester Community College on Wednesday, May 10, in Valhalla, New York. Evan Vucci/AP

President Joe Biden did not watch CNN’s town hall with former President Donald Trump, a source familiar with the president’s evening said.

Biden was flying from New York City to Washington, D.C. while the event took place, and televisions aboard Air Force One were tuned to another channel — except in the press cabin, which watched CNN.

But Biden’s campaign team and Democratic officials were closely watching and believed several of the former president’s comments will serve as fodder for advertisements and digital content going forward.

“It was quite efficient. Weeks worth of damning content in one hour,” one adviser said. 

A source familiar with the campaign’s thinking said they believe Trump’s messaging and efforts to double down on issues like election denialism will alienate voters and that the town hall showed Biden’s campaign messaging from 2022, the midterms and 2024 will prove to be the right one. Advisers believe they can leverage Trump’s comments on abortion, debt default, and refusing to say whether he’d accept the results of the upcoming election. 

One Democratic official described Trump’s comments on overturning Roe v. Wade as a “home run for us” as they seek to argue women’s reproductive rights are under attack by the GOP.

The Biden campaign is already working to pinpoint moments from the town hall that they can turn into ads and digital content, including Trump’s comments on January 6, election denialism, abortion and other comments containing misogynistic rhetoric.

Biden’s political account has already tweeted a video featuring the former president’s comments about January 6 juxtaposed with images of the insurrectionists at the US Capitol in 2021.

  

11:02 p.m. ET, May 10, 2023

Fact check: Trump's claims about E. Jean Carroll and the civil trial jury verdict

From CNN’s Nicki Brown

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

A day after a Manhattan federal jury found former President Donald Trump sexually abused and defamed the writer E. Jean Carroll, Trump claimed that the jury in the civil trial found he did not rape her and said he “didn’t do anything else either.”

“They said 'he didn’t rape her,' and I didn’t do anything else either,” Trump said.

Facts First: This statement requires more context. While the jury did not find that Carroll had proven rape, it did find that she proved Trump committed sexual abuse, sufficient to hold him liable for battery.

Carroll alleged Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store in the mid-1990s and then later defamed her when he denied her claim.

In the civil suit, the jury had to determine whether Carroll’s legal team proved that Trump committed battery against Carroll by a preponderance of the evidence.

While it did not determine that Carroll’s team had proven rape – the state’s law says that a person is liable for rape when a person forces sexual intercourse with another person without their consent – it did find that they proved Trump committed sexual abuse.

The jury had been instructed that a person is liable for sexual abuse when they subject another person without consent to sexual contact, which under New York law means “any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of either party.”

11:18 p.m. ET, May 10, 2023

Analysis: Trump playing to his base at town hall could open the door to other Republican primary challengers

Former President Donald Trump's answers to questions from New Hampshire voters about a variety of topics at the CNN town hall Wednesday may have opened the door for other Republicans to challenge him in the 2024 presidential primary race, Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former Trump White House director of communications and CNN political commentator, said.

The former president often dodged directly answering questions and giving specific policy stances in the town hall, such as not saying if he would sign a federal abortion ban or if he wanted Ukraine or Russia to win the war. Trump repeated his election lies and attempted to repaint his role during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Issues like crime and the economy, however, are what are on the minds of most voters on a day-to-day basis, Farah Griffin said.

"I think this may have motivated some of the folks who want to challenge him to say, ‘okay, this may be an opening for us’ because he played to the base. He did not play to the voters like me who generally supported most of his policies, but are sick of the noise, we’re sick of the anti-democratic positions," she said after the town hall.

Farah Griffin pointed to a statement from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' super PAC criticizing Trump as an example of how other candidates could be taking advantage.

"After 76 years, Trump still doesn’t know where he stands on important conservative issues like supporting life and the 2nd amendment. How does that Make America Great Again?" the statement said.

The super PAC in a tweet also touched on several issues including possible pardons for January 6 rioters and the investigation into classified documents at Mar-a-Lago — topics that DeSantis has not criticized Trump over and in some cases has outright avoided discussing at all. 

"This to me actually became an opening for a Republican to take him on and say, if you want a lot of the policies — not insane things like family separation — and you don't want chaos and anti-democratic positions," Farah Griffin said.

CNN's Steve Contorno and Alayna Treene contributed reporting to this post.

12:04 a.m. ET, May 11, 2023

Former and current GOP governors react to Trump's town hall performance

Former and current Republican governors reacted to former President Trump's claims throughout CNN's town hall in New Hampshire on Wednesday evening.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu: The Republican governor told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Trump didn't say anything that he thinks will help him win the GOP nomination for president. "It was kind of the same old thing, the same old regurgitation. He had a chance to move on from 2020, he didn't do it. He had a chance to own some of the issues of January 6, what his role there was. He didn't do it. He had the chance to take shots at Joe Biden, he didn't do it," Sununu said.

"So if you're an independent voter, if you're a suburban mom, all these voters that Republicans are trying to bring back into the mix, I don't see any of them being convinced by anything because it was just kind of the same old regurgitation," Sununu said, noting that he had supported Trump in 2016 and 2020 but he's going to be a "four-time loser." He did not answer whether he would consider entering the 2024 presidential race.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: After Donald Trump said he would end Russia's war in Ukraine in 24 hours, the Republican tweeted that "despite how ridiculous that is to say, I suspect he would try to do it by turning Ukraine over to Putin and Russia. #Putin’sPuppet."

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson: The 2024 challenger to Trump said on CNN that the former president “had a weak performance and he’s locked in the past."

“He had a goal, I’m sure, to expand his base to be able to prove that he can attract independents and the suburban voters. He failed that test. He narrowed his base of support, he’s locked in the past, he didn’t address the issues (of) the future," the Republican said.

"Whenever he was asked about the economy, he gave one brief response on energy policy, but really didn’t address the broad range of things we have in our economy to get it going again," he added.