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On a national broadcast bolstered by audience laughter, former President Donald Trump launched a broadside attack against a woman whom a jury found he sexually assaulted and repeated vulgar comments about using his fame to sexually assault women made in the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” clip.
The town hall comes less than 36 hours after a jury in New York found that Trump sexually abused and defamed writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s and of defaming her after she made public allegations in 2019. While the jury did not find sufficient evidence to validate her rape claim, she was awarded $5 million in damages stemming from sexual battery and defamation.
Asked whether the verdict against him disqualifies him from the presidency, Trump claimed he has “no idea who [E. Jean Carroll] is.” He went on to mock Carroll’s description of the events — that the pair went into a dressing room and that Trump then assaulted her without consent. He implied that Carroll was not a victim and instead derided her, employing a sexist line of attack in asking “what kind of a woman” would meet a man and take him to a dressing room.
It was a stunning scene as the room of likely Republican and undecided voters at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire followed Trump’s comments about Carroll with laughter. In other moments during the broadcast, Trump called CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person” and twice called former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “crazy.” Trump also said he was “honored” to pave the way for the end of the abortion protections in the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
Trump used his national platform on CNN to air accusations against Carroll related to her family and personal life that the judge in the case deemed inadmissible in court. He said he declined to testify under his lawyers’ advice that it was a “fake story.”
“She’s a whack job,” Trump said to roaring laughter from the audience.
The “Access Hollywood” tape, which surfaced a month before the 2016 presidential election, became part of Carroll’s legal case against Trump. In the clip, Trump says that his fame allows him to approach women and “grab ‘em by the pussy” — a vulgar description of sexual assault and exploitation of power.
Trump was asked by Collins if he would take back his comments in the tape; he responded by reaffirming them, saying that women allow such moves from people with fame and power.
“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.
Trump’s comments and the audience’s laughter made a mockery of sexual assault, even as advocates say that the fear of not being believed and shame deters many victims of sexual abuse from reporting. During the trial, Carroll talked about the long-lasting effects of Trump’s abuse and denial.
“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen,” Carroll told the jury during the trial. “He lied and shattered my reputation, and I’m here to try to get my life back.”
Wednesday’s event was not the first time Trump took aim at Carroll. During the trial, Trump also argued that Carroll was “not my type” — echoing similar comments Trump has made mocking Stormy Daniels as he seeks to defend himself from criminal charges involving hush-money payments to the porn star following an alleged affair. That case is ongoing.
Trump touted his appointment of three justices to the Supreme Court that preceded the overturn of Roe v. Wade but would not commit to any specific policies to restrict abortion, including a national ban. Trump joins other GOP presidential hopefuls who have refused to back specific legislation to restrict the procedure in the wake of multiple electoral victories for candidates who back abortion rights and the defeat of ballot measures that seek to restrict it.
“What I’ll do is negotiate so that people are happy,” Trump said, declining to support or reject a federal abortion ban. “I want to do what’s right, and we’re looking at what we want to do.”
It’s unclear how the decision in Carroll’s civil lawsuit against Trump or the raucous CNN town hall will impact his third campaign for the White House, even as past controversies have not rocked his standing among many of his supporters. Many of the members of the audience present on Wednesday night were identified as people who voted for Trump in 2020.
Trump leads in polling of the GOP primary field. In a new poll from ABC News and The Washington Post of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP, 51 percent of the 1,006 adults surveyed listed Trump as their preferred 2024 Republican nominee, compared with 25 percent for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to launch his campaign for president later this month.