"Unhinged": Trump steamrolls CNN town hall to promise Jan. 6 pardons, deny elections

CNN insiders reportedly called the event a "f***ing disgrace"

By Rae Hodge

Staff Reporter

Published May 10, 2023 10:53PM (EDT)

Former president Donald Trump (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Former president Donald Trump (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Just a day after being found liable for sexual assault by a Manahtten jury, former President Donald Trump baffled audiences in a Wednesday night CNN town hall appearance with a litany of false claims, wild promises — and a crude stream of statements that critics are calling "unhinged." 

"What we saw tonight was outrageous," former federal prosecutor Laura Coates told CNN hosts after the event. 

Early in the event, Trump promised that if elected president in 2024, he would pardon "many" rioters involved in the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol — calling the violent insurrection, which claimed the lives of four Trump supporters, a "beautiful day."

Addressing the Black police officer who shot one rioter while protecting Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from an attacker, Trump called the officer "that thug."

In one of the event's darkest moments, the twice-impeached Trump responded to CNN moderator Kaitlin Collins' questions by mocking his sexual assault victim, E. Jean Carroll, while the audience laughed. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages Tuesday when Trump was found liable for not only sexually abusing her but defaming her.  

"I would be salivating if I were the attorney for E. Jean Carroll," Coates said on her Wednesday night CNN appearance. 

Despite the night's potential to become further grounds for lawsuits, the Trump camp was elated by his appearance, NBC News' Garrett Haake reported. 

"Trump's campaign team is thrilled with how the night went. One senior advisor describing the night as a 'home run,' and telling me 'when the lefts melting down, we know it was a good day,'" Haake tweeted Wednesday night. 

Trump also claimed credit for the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, while claiming to have stopped people "killing babies." CNN columnist Jill Filipovic was among the chorus of online voices attempting to fact-check Trump's false claims.

"This is obvious but contrary to Trump's completely unhinged claims, no one can 'kill the baby at any time they want to.' Killing a baby is, and has been, a crime in all 50 states for the entirety of U.S. history," she said in a Wednesday tweet. 

In another puzzling moment, Trump suggested that the U.S. should default on its national debt as a solution to the tangled budget crisis. 

"You might as well do it now because you'll do it later," he said. 

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When asked by Collins about his position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Trump refused to answer which country he supported — but claimed he would end the war "in 24 hours." The remarks drew sharp rebuke from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The Republican called Trump "Putin's puppet" in tweets. 

"Donald Trump says he would end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours tonight on CNN. Despite how ridiculous that is to say, I suspect he would try to do it by turning Ukraine over to Putin and Russia," Christie wrote.

Collins, undeterred by Trump's continued attempts to dodge questions, got under Trump's skin by repeating her questions when Trump refused to respond. 

"Trump calls Collns a 'nasty person' on stage," reported CNN's Oliver Darcy. "The crowd, made up of GOP voters in New Hampshire, cheers."

But Collins' unshaken poise also drew admirers who praised her persistence. 

In the hours immediately following the town hall program, insiders at CNN reportedly shared their praises of Collins with Rolling Stone, calling her "unflappable" — but went on to lambast CNN that the event was allowed to occur at all. 

The event was "a f****ng disgrace," one source said.

Another source called it "1000 percent a mistake [to host Trump]. No one [at CNN] is happy." 

By Rae Hodge

Rae Hodge is a science reporter for Salon. Her data-driven, investigative coverage spans more than a decade, including prior roles with CNET, the AP, NPR, the BBC and others. She can be found on Mastodon at @raehodge@newsie.social. 


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