CNN ripped for Trump town hall after jury verdict — but allies fear he's "walking into an ambush"

"If I were on his communications team, I would be sh***ing my pants right now," ex-Trump adviser tells Daily Beast

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published May 10, 2023 11:15AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump is slated to appear on CNN on Wednesday night for a town hall in New Hampshire, one day after being found liable for sexually abusing and defaming magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll. 

During Wednesday's town hall, which will be moderated by CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins, Trump will field "questions from New Hampshire Republicans and undeclared voters who plan to vote in the 2024 GOP presidential primary," per CNN.

The network has been slammed in recent weeks since announcing it would be hosting Trump at St. Anselm College, with many critics arguing it was a blatant ratings grab.

The New York Times reported that MSNBC's Joy Reid ripped the town hall as "a pretty open attempt by CNN to push itself to the right and make itself attractive and show its belly to MAGA." 

Criticism of town hall has only increased since Tuesday's verdict was handed down by a Manhattan jury. 

"Is @CNN still going to do a town hall with the sexual predator twice impeached insurrectionist former president @realDonaldTrump?" tweeted Alexander Vindman, an Army colonel who was a witness in Trump's first impeachment trial. "I'm not watching it. I think it's absurd for a major news network to normalize Trump," he added. 

Former Capitol Police officer Michael Fanone, who now works as a pundit at CNN, blasted the network for hosting "a guy who tried to get me killed."

"Putting him onstage, having him answer questions like a normal candidate who didn't get people killed in the process of trying to end the democracy he's attempting to once again run, normalizes what Trump did," he wrote in a Rolling Stone op-ed. "It sends a message that attempting a coup is just part of the process; that accepting election results is a choice; and that there are no consequences, in the media or in politics or anywhere else, for rejecting them."

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But some Trump allies are concerned the town hall could backfire on the former president. The Daily Beast reported that a former Trump adviser feels the ex-president is "walking into a complete ambush."

"If I were on his communications team, I would be shitting my pants right now," the advisor continued, claiming that the verdict "could not have come at a worse time for them, so I think this thing takes on a whole new dynamic. Majorly."

One New Hampshire state GOP member told The Daily Beast that she was approached by a CNN representative who asked her to pose a question at the town hall because "they're having a bit of an issue with women."

"I said to her, 'What do you think that tells you?' Because they've lost a lot of the female vote," she said, adding that most of the questions submitted for the event were from men. Trump might have had the chance to pander to suburban women voters, a group he has lost in the past, "but he spent 70-some-odd years saying the things he does say about women and to women," the Republican added. "It's too late for him to walk that back."

The event will mark Trump's first appearance on CNN since 2016. The Times reported that much has changed at the network since then — namely, CNN's new chief executive, Chris Licht, "pledged to broaden the network's appeal." Licht is supported by Warner CEO David Zaslav.

"The U.S. has a divided government; we need to hear both voices," Mr. Zaslav said last week on CNBC when questioned about the town hall. "When we do politics, we need to represent both sides. I think it's important for America."

"President Trump is the Republican frontrunner, and our job despite his unique circumstances is to do what we do best," a CNN spokesperson said in a statement. "Ask tough questions, follow up, and hold him accountable to give voters the information they need to sort through their choices. That is our role and our responsibility."

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Aggregate Chris Licht Cnn David Zaslav Donald Trump E Jean Carroll Politics