UPDATE: Donald Trump called Kaitlan Collins “a nasty person” as she pressed him on his withholding of classified material despite requests by the National Archives to return them.
The crowd cheered.
Collins did not react to the comment, and continued to ask him about the documents.
A number of Collins’ fellow journalists came to her defense as the town hall ended. The New York Times’ Peter Baker said that she was “in an impossible position but did a heroic job of fact-checking Trump throughout the town hall. No easy task given how many factually untrue things he said in such a short time. Collins is a true pro and showed what a stellar journalist she is.”
But the network itself is taking a drubbing on social media for giving Trump a platform, before a crowd of friendly supporters who gave him two standing ovations.
PREVIOUSLY: The town hall is not even over, but CNN is getting pummeled for the event.
When Kaitlan Collins asked Trump about a jury’s $5 million verdict finding him liable for sexual assault and defamation against E. Jean Carroll, the former president bragged about his poll numbers going up, to audience applause and even laughter.
“This woman. I don’t know her. I have never met her. I have no idea who she is,” he said, before accusing Carroll of calling her African American husband a “ape” and complaining that the judge would not allow his legal team to admit evidence that she called her pet Vagina. He also called her a “whack job,” as he talked about the case as if it were one of his comedy bits. He also defended his comments on the infamous Access Hollywood tape.
Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor, wrote on Twitter, “I can’t believe this is being allowed on CNN. This is promulgating the cult leadership of Trump — and people are laughing at sexual assault. God save us. And now trump says it’s because women LET YOU grab ‘em by the pussy. #TrumpTownHall“
PREVIOUSLY: Donald Trump’s return to CNN for a town hall began with moderator Kaitlan Collins trying to challenge the former president on his claim that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.”
Trump called those who accepted the results “very stupid” while launching into a fusillade of unfounded and debunked claims that cameras captured voter fraud.
Collins said, “Mr. President, to what you just said there, though, 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 didn’t lose the 2020?”
He did not, but instead went into claims that there was widespread fraud and “they found millions of votes on camera on government cameras where they were stuffing ballot boxes.”
When Collins said that there was no evidence of election fraud, Trump said, “You’re supposed to say that.”
Trump went on to make the election claims but, as he tends to do, veered into a whole host of different issues. Collins even pointed out that his own campaign paid for a recount in Wisconsin that showed that Joe Biden actually got more votes, but Trump wouldn’t back away from his claim that votes were stolen.
The former president had a friendly audience at the town hall, as they gave him a standing ovation as he took the stage. They also applauded when he said that he would pardon many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6.
Trump’s appearance on longtime adversary CNN for the closely scrutinized town hall carried risks for the Republican presidential candidate but perhaps even more potential pitfalls for the network and Collins.
The event likely will give the network a needed audience boost, with CNN’s primetime ratings languishing well behind its rivals.
But the network has faced considerable criticism for giving Trump a platform in a format that typically gives a candidate positive exposure. Some warned that the network was normalizing a figure who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election and called for the termination of the Constitution. Michael Fanone, the former DC Metropolitan Police officer who was injured on January 6th and who is a CNN contributor, wrote in an essay for Rolling Stone that the network’s event was “an attempt by a major media outlet struggling with its ratings to attract disenfranchised viewers.”
“To me, allowing Trump an open forum on a major television news network is the moral equivalent of putting an AR-15 in the hands of someone mentally unstable,” he wrote.
The network under CEO Chris Licht has for the past year tried to shed the Jeff Zucker-era notion that it is the anti-Trump channel, dropping opinion segments in favor of more straightforward news coverage. The network has defended the event as part of its plans to invite major 2024 presidential contenders to take part in town hall forums.
The Trump event, though, presents the challenge of countering the former president’s penchant for filibustering with a firehouse of disinformation.
Collins, who sparred with Trump when she was a White House reporter, faces the task of pressing Trump with follow ups and interruptions, or even fact-checking some of his claims in real time. The event also is a test for her, with speculation that she is being positioned as a primetime host.
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