Trump Maintains False 2020 Election Claims on CNN Town Hall

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(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump refused to concede his 2020 electoral loss in his first interview on CNN since 2016, maintaining a stance that Republicans say risks their efforts to retake the White House.

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The former president and current frontrunner for the GOP nomination repeated false stolen election claims several times during the televised town hall in New Hampshire on Wednesday.

“That was a rigged election and it was a shame we had to go through it,” Trump said. The town hall moderator, Kaitlan Collins, repeatedly pointed out that his claims of fraud were false.

Trump also repeated his debunked claims that it was the responsibility of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to stop the deadly riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Pelosi’s office has said she shared control of the Capitol with the Senate majority leader, but it was Trump’s duty to act.

Trump also said he would pardon a “large portion” of his supporters who waged a deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol to overturn his electoral loss.

“I am inclined to pardon many of them. I can’t say for every single one,” Trump said in response to a question from an audience member.

Following a disappointing 2022 midterm election showing that included many of Trump’s handpicked candidates and those who espoused his false election claims, many in the party have urged the GOP to look to the future lest they repel independent voters who are crucial to winning the White House.

Former Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans have chided Trump’s focus on his false claims over the 2020 election, saying Republicans can only win if they are united around an optimistic vision for the future, not looking backward.

“Elections are about the future,” Pence said in a speech last year at a Republican National Committee retreat. “We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.”

Asked whether he owed Pence an apology for what happened on Jan. 6 when the mob chanted “hang Mike Pence” for refusing Trump’s demand that he reject Electoral College votes in key states, Trump said he didn’t. Trump said Pence had authority to act that scholars agree he did not.

Trump also called for Republican lawmakers to dig in on a standoff over raising the debt limit, even if it means default.

“I say to the Republicans out there, congressmen, senators, if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default,” he said. Trump though predicted the US wouldn’t default because Democrats would bow to GOP demands.

Trump refused to specify whether he would support a national abortion ban or restrictions. He also rejected calls for new gun-control measures, saying weapons are needed for “entertainment” and hunting, and that the focus should instead be on fortifying schools, arming teachers and addressing mental health concerns.

Trump was also asked about the federal jury in New York on Tuesday finding him liable for sexually assaulting writer E. Jean Carroll and then defaming her by calling her a liar, the first verdict against Trump in a string of legal cases that threaten to erupt during the 2024 presidential campaign.

The former president repeated his defense that the case was politically motivated and that he didn’t get a fair trial in New York. He also mocked Carroll’s story about the attack in the dressing room of a Fifth Avenue department store in the 1990s.

Asked whether the verdict will deter women from voting for him, Trump said, “No, I don’t think so because I think the whole thing, just so you understand, ready, I never met this woman. I never saw this woman.”

As the town hall concluded, Trump, responding to a question from Collins, refused to commit to accepting the 2024 results if he’s the GOP nominee, saying he would only do it “if I think it’s an honest election.”

(Updates with additional details, quotes from third paragraph.)

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