Donald Trump opened his town hall on CNN Wednesday night by reiterating his false claim that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.”
The former president sat down Wednesday evening for a conversation moderated by Kaitlan Collins broadcast live from New Hampshire, fielding questions from Republicans and undeclared voters in the state. At the start of the evening, Collins and Trump sparred over false conspiracy theories about the results of the 2020 election and the degree of the former president’s involvement with the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“When you look at that result and when you look at what happened during that election — and unless you’re a very stupid person you see what happened,” Trump told the crowd. “That was a rigged election.”
Trump’s comments were repeatedly punctuated by Collins’ interjections, fact-checking the former president’s claims about the election. Asked by an audience member if he would suspend “polarizing talk of election fraud” during his campaign, Trump answered: “Yeah, unless I see election fraud.”
Later in the broadcast, Trump called Collins a “nasty person” when the conversation turned to the matter of him possessing classified documents at his residence in Mar-a-Lago following his presidency.
“Why did you hold onto those documents when you knew the federal government was seeking them and had given you a subpoena to return them?” Collins asked.
“Are you ready? Can I talk? Do you mind? It’s very simple to answer. You’re a nasty person, I’ll tell you that,” Trump responded. “I was negotiating. We were talking to [the National Archives and Records Administration] to bring whatever they want… All of a sudden, they raid our house.”
The former president also defended the mob of supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, seeking to keep Trump in power by interrupting a Congressional session to count electoral college votes. During the town hall, Trump stated that he planned to pardon some rioters who were convicted.
“They were there proud,” Trump stated. “They were there with love in their heart. That was an unbelievable and a beautiful day.”
CNN’s decision to host a town hall with the former president represents a notable shift in its programming. During Trump’s time in office, CNN maintained an emphasis on fact-checking his statements and criticizing his policy choices. Until Wednesday night, Trump had not appeared on CNN since his 2016 campaign, repeatedly dismissing the network (among other outlets) as “fake news” throughout his presidency.
David Zaslav, the chief of CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, has defended the invitation to Trump as a responsibility for the network to represent “both sides” of the U.S. partisan structure.
“I think it’s important for America,” Zaslav stated on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” last Friday. “He’s the front-runner — he has to be on our network. We’re happy he’s coming on there… This is a new CNN.”
CNN became part of the merged Warner Bros. Discovery in April 2022, after Discovery’s acquisition of WarnerMedia closed. Two months prior to the deal, Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and president of CNN Worldwide, exited the company after disclosing a consensual relationship with another employee.