Former President Donald Trump’s primetime return to CNN Wednesday for the first time since 2016 felt like a throwback: Trump with the twisting answers; the interviewer at times struggling to return his focus to the question at hand; and then, eventually, both talking over each other as Trump flings barbs.
The audience, made up of Republicans and independents, was largely favorable to Trump and laughed and cheered as he made his points.
“I like you guys,” Trump told the crowd.
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Wednesday’s town hall in New Hampshire was the first time in years that Trump faced prolonged, live questioning from a mainstream media outlet.
He had branded CNN “fake news” and never granted any of its journalists an interview while president. Trump’s campaign said he was appearing on the network now to step outside a GOP comfort zone as he already starts to turn his focus to a potential 2024 general election rematch with Democrat Joe Biden.
It ended up being a massive victory for the Republican primary front-runner.
But even supporters recognize that Trump’s appearance on CNN comes at a difficult time the former president: The Republican is facing a number of legal problems, yet is in a stronger position than ever to become his party’s presidential nominee.
Trump’s appearance came a day after a New York jury found him liable for sexually abusing a woman nearly 30 years ago and defaming her when she spoke about it publicly.
Trump has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong and has said he never encountered Carroll at a 1996 department store and did not know her. He plans to appeal the verdict.
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Trump, when asked by CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins about the verdict, said his poll numbers went up and repeated his statements that he didn’t know Carroll.
“I don’t know her. I never met her. I had no idea who she is.” He dismissed a question from Collins about whether it would impact his standing with female voters and in response, he launched into a recounting of Carroll’s claims in a mocking voice, drawing laughs and cheers from the live audience.
Trump, responding to a question about the U.S. Supreme Court, took credit for appointing three of the justices who joined in the majority ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and made it a state’s rights issue, saying “it was such a great victory and people are starting to understand it now.”
When asked about the war in Ukraine, Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “a smart guy,” that “made a bad mistake” invading Ukraine. Trump claimed that if he was still president Putin would never have invaded Ukraine.
Trump defended his keeping government documents at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, which is now the subject of a Justice Department probe.
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“I had every right to do it. I didn’t make a secret of it,” Trump said.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article