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Trump jokes about sexual abuse verdict, repeats election falsehoods

Trump jokes about sexual abuse verdict, repeats election falsehoods © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts after arriving at Aberdeen International Airport in Aberdeen, Scotland, Britain May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

By Nathan Layne and Tim Reid

(Reuters) -An unrepentant Donald Trump held firm to past grievances at the first televised town hall of the 2024 U.S. presidential election on Wednesday, stressing from the moment he took the stage that he has little intention of mounting a more disciplined campaign for his third White House bid.

In a contentious 70-minute broadcast, Trump drew laughter from a New Hampshire audience when he mocked writer E. Jean Carroll’s account of his having sexually abused her, repeated falsehoods about his 2020 election loss, said he would pardon many of his supporters convicted of taking part in a Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and called the CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person.”

Responding to questions from Collins and members of the audience at Saint Anselm College, Trump made no effort to offer more moderate positions on issues, which political analysts say is key to broadening his appeal to a wider swath of Republicans.

Asked by Collins whether he would acknowledge that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020, the Republican Trump reasserted unfounded claims that the election was rigged against him, brushing aside her attempts to correct the record.

“That was a rigged election,” Trump said, adding that anyone who thought otherwise was “stupid.”

Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination, declined to express regret for the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol when his supporters sought to prevent Congress from ratifying the election result, and he repeated his plan to pardon individuals involved if voters return him to the White House in 2024. Trump and Collins frequently spoke over each other with Collins challenging a number of the former president’s false claims.

Stu Rothenberg, a non-partisan political analyst, said Trump’s performance was a likely prelude to his 2024 campaign.

“It was classic Trump – it was Donald Trump from 2015 right up until now: the Big Lie, the outrageous style, demeaning individuals, mocking them,” said Rothenberg, senior editor at the Inside Elections newsletter. “He hasn’t changed, nor will he. It was a glimpse into the next year and a half.”

The audience of Republicans and independent voters who plan to vote in the Republican primary were generally very supportive of Trump, giving him a standing ovation when he took the stage. New Hampshire is an early nominating state that could prove critical in Trump’s bid to win the November 2024 election.

Some applauded when he described his Jan. 6 speech and the events that led up to the Capitol riot in positive terms.

“I’ve never spoken to a crowd as large as that, and that was because they thought the election was rigged. They were there with love in their heart. That was unbelievable, and it was a beautiful day,” he said.

Responding to Trump’s remarks, Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison issued a statement calling Trump a “dangerous, extreme candidate who seeks to undermine democracy.” Biden sought to fundraise off the event.

“Do you want four more years of that? If you don’t, pitch in to our campaign,” Biden wrote on Twitter.

Collins tried to fact-check Trump’s assertions in real time, sometimes leading to the two talking over each other as Trump, who usually sticks to conservative media outlets, refused to back down. It was Trump’s first appearance on CNN since 2016.

On Tuesday, a federal jury found Trump sexually abused Carroll in a department store dressing room in Manhattan in the 1990s, then harmed her reputation by describing her claims as “a hoax” and “a lie.” It said he must pay her $5 million in damages. Trump’s lawyer said they would appeal.

“What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes, you’re playing hanky panky in a dressing room?” Trump said, one of many disparaging comments about Carroll that elicited applause and laughter. He called her a “wack job.”

After Tuesday’s verdict, Carroll issued a statement saying: “Today, the world finally knows the truth … This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”

Trump stood by his remarks in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which he bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, suggesting stars could have their way with them. The comments were used against Trump at trial.

“And you would like me to take that back. I can’t take it back because it happens to be true. I said, it’s been true for 1 million years, approximately a million years, perhaps a little bit longer than that,” Trump said. “I’m not referring to myself, I’m saying people that are famous, people that are stars.”

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