In his first televised town hall meeting of the 2024 United States presidential election, Donald Trump dug in on his lies about the rigging of the 2020 presidential election, downplayed the violence on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC, and repeatedly insulted a woman in response to a civil jury’s finding this week that he was liable of sexually assaulting her.
In a contentious 70-minute CNN town hall broadcast on Wednesday, Trump drew laughter from a New Hampshire audience when he mocked writer E Jean Carroll’s account of him having sexually abused her.
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 attack on the US Capitol, and called his CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person”.
During the contentious back-and-forth in early-voting New Hampshire – where moderator Collins sometimes struggled to fact-check his misstatements in real-time – Trump continued to insist the 2020 presidential election had been “rigged”, even though state and federal election officials, his own campaign and White House aides, and numerous courts have rejected his allegations.
Trump also repeatedly minimised the violence caused by a mob of his supporters who stormed the Capitol in 2021. Instead, he said he was inclined to pardon “a large portion” of January 6 defendants if he wins re-election.
“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 of the January 6 attack.
He also rejected a suggestion that he apologise to his former vice president, Mike Pence, who was targeted by the mob.
“I don’t feel he was in any danger,” he said. In fact, Trump said, Pence was the one who “did something wrong”.
Throughout, the audience of Republican and unaffiliated voters cheered him on, laughing and applauding.
Trump and Collins frequently spoke over each other with Collins challenging a number of the former president’s false claims.
The audience of Republicans and independent voters who plan to vote in the Republican primary were generally very supportive of 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 Trump’s remarks on Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said the former president “lied about the 2020 election” for 20 minutes and criticised his characterising of January 6, 2021, as “a beautiful day”.
“This would be disgusting if it wasn’t so dangerous,” DNC spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
On Tuesday, a federal jury found that 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?” Trump said, one of many disparaging comments about Carroll that elicited applause and laughter at the town hall.
After Tuesday’s verdict, Carroll issued a statement saying: “Today, the world finally knows the truth … This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”
Trump also stood by his remarks in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which he bragged about grabbing women by their genitals.
“And you would like me to take that back. I can’t take it back because it happens to be true. I said it’s been true for one million years, approximately a million years, perhaps a little bit longer than that,” Trump said.
“I’m not referring to myself – I’m saying people that are famous, people that are stars.”
Trump, who was absent throughout the two-week trial in New York, 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.