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The Biggest Takeaways from CNN's Controversial Town Hall with Donald Trump

The televised event, moderated by CNN's Kaitlan Collins, came one day after Trump was found liable by a jury for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll

John Nowak/CNN
John Nowak/CNN

Donald Trump appeared in his first town hall of the 2024 presidential campaign season on Wednesday evening, sitting for a controversial primetime town hall on CNN.

The special, moderated by CNN This Morning co-anchor Kaitlan Collins, came one day after Trump was found liable by a jury for sexually abusing and defaming former Elle advice columnist E. Jean Carroll.

CNN has been heavily criticized both before and since airing the special, which saw Trump, 76, largely steamroll Collins, making an array of false claims that at times went unchecked (all while the audience laughed, even when the former president made light of Carroll's sexual assault claims).

There were other headline making moments, too, such as when the former president called Jan. 6, 2021 — a day when a mob of his supporters overtook the United States Capitol that led to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol police officer — "beautiful."

Here are the biggest moments from CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with Trump.

Will Lanzoni/CNN Donald Trump at CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall on May 10, 2023
Will Lanzoni/CNN Donald Trump at CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall on May 10, 2023

Trump supporters burst into laughter as he mocked sexual assault accuser E. Jean Carroll

Just one day after he was found liable for sexually assaulting and defaming Carroll, Trump said on CNN that the allegations against him are little more than "election interference."

"This woman — I don't know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is," said Trump, who has been photographed with Carroll. "I had a picture taken years ago with her and her husband — nice guy, John Johnson, he was a newscaster, very nice man."

Trump then went on to allege that Carroll had called her now ex-husband "an ape," and that she had a cat named "vagina," adding that the judge "wouldn't allow" his legal team to mention those items during his defense.

The audience at the town hall laughed while Trump continued, saying again that he "did not know" Carroll, and suggesting that her claims that he forced her against a dressing room and assaulted her at Bergdorf Goodman 27 years ago were false.

Related:Trump Draws Laughter, Applause as He Mocks E. Jean Carroll During CNN Town Hall

He also referred to the alleged sexual assault as "hanky-panky" and said he feels sorry for her ex-husband, finishing the conversation about the battery and defamation trial by calling Carroll a "wack job."

The unanimous verdict that found Trump liable earlier this week was reached after less than three hours of deliberations by the jury and marks the first time the former president — who has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women — has been held legally responsible for sexual misconduct.

Related:Key Takeaways from Donald Trump's Deposition in E. Jean Carroll Rape and Defamation Trial

John Nowak/CNN
John Nowak/CNN

Trump continued to falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged

At various points during the town hall, Collins gave Trump the opportunity to backtrack on his repeated lie that the 2020 election, which he lost, was rigged against him. But Trump doubled down.

"When you look at that result and when you look at what happened in that election — unless you're a very stupid person — you see what happened. Most people understand what happened," Trump said. "That was a rigged election and it's a shame that we had to through it. It's very bad for our country."

Collins then interjected, telling Trump, "It was not a rigged election. It was not a stolen election. You and your supporters lost more than 60 court cases on the election. It's been nearly two-and-a-half-years — can you publicly acknowledge that you did lose the 2020 election?"

Trump then continued claiming ballot boxes were "stuffed," no evidence of which has ever been found despite the former president's many attempts to do so.

Related:The Biggest Bombshells from the Donald Trump Indictment, from Hush Money Payments to 'Friends in High Places'

John Nowak/CNN
John Nowak/CNN

Trump called Jan. 6 'a beautiful day' and expressed an intent to pardon rioters

Asked if he had "any regrets" about his actions on Jan. 6, 2021 — when he called on supporters to "march" to the U.S. Capitol and later released a video addressing those who had broken into the U.S. Capitol building with, "we love you, you're very special" — Trump only expressed support for the rioters.

"Jan. 6 had to do with the fact that ... you had hundreds of thousands of people [who] thought the election was rigged," he responded. "They were there proud. They were there with love in their hearts. That was an unbelievable-- and it was a beautiful day."

Later, Trump said he would be "inclined" to pardon at least some of the hundreds of people who were arrested that day if he was elected president again, telling Collins: "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."

Trump called Kaitlan Collins a 'nasty person' when she pressed on classified documents

Trump lobbed one of his favored insults at Collins when she pressed him on his handling of classified documents, calling her a "nasty person."

On Aug. 8, 2022, FBI agents executed a search warrant at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Fla., in an explosive moment in the ongoing criminal investigation into whether the former president violated statutes related to national security by allegedly mishandling classified documents he removed from the White House at the end of his presidency.

The investigation remains ongoing, and in early April 2023, The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department had obtained new evidence suggesting potential obstruction by the former president when ti came to his handling of documents.

In the town hall, Collins asked why Trump "held on" to some classified documents after being alerted that the federal government was seeking them.

"Are you ready? Can I talk? Do you mind?" a visibly frustrated Trump asked.

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

"It's very simple — and you are a nasty person, I'll tell ya," Trump told Collins, eliciting another round of laughter from the crowd.

Will Lanzoni/CNN
Will Lanzoni/CNN

Trump refused to take Ukraine's side in the ongoing Russian invasion

More than one year into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Trump stopped short of condemning Vladimir Putin's attacks on the country.

Asked if he would provide Ukraine with weapons and funding to defend itself against Russia — as the Biden administration has done — Trump said, "If I'm president, I will have that war settled in one day — in 24 hours ... I'll meet with Putin, I'll meet with [Ukrainian President] Zelenskyy, they both have weaknesses and they both have strengths, and within 24 hours, that war would be settled."

Asked if he wanted Ukraine to win the war, he said, "I don't think in terms of winning and losing, I think in terms of getting it settled so we stop killing all these people."

Later, when asked a similar question by a town hall attendee, Trump hinted he would stop sending aid Ukraine in the war against Russia if elected president in 2024.

He then said: "I have a very good relationship with President Zelenskyy because as you know he backed me up with the phony impeachment — impeachment hoax number one — when he said 'The president didn't do anything wrong' so I happen to like him... I was totally exonerated by the way."

Collins then noted that Trump was actually impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives over a phone call he made to Zelenskyy, in which he pressured the leader to investigate his political rivals.

Trump's relationships with both Ukraine and Russia have been much-dissected since his 2016 election.

American intelligence officials have said that the Russian government and other Russian actors interfered in the 2016 presidential election in order to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton, and Trump himself was investigated for his alleged ties to the country.

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CNN's special came amid other legal issues for Trump, who was indicted by a grand jury in March over alleged hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels while he was the presidential candidate in 2016.

With the indictment, Trump became the first sitting or former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges.

A Georgia special grand jury is also examining Trump's efforts to overturn the state's 2020 election results concluded its work in January 2023, a Fulton County judge said in a court order issued at the time.

A report by the grand jury, which could include a recommendation of criminal charges, has not yet been made public.

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