Trump sidesteps question when asked if he plans to abuse power if reelected

Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly told his supporters he will serve as their “retribution” if he is elected again in 2024.

But pressed by Fox host Sean Hannity in a Fox News town hall Tuesday about whether he would abuse his power or seek retribution against his political enemies as president, Trump first sidestepped the question –and then seemed to minimize its seriousness, responding on a second round that he would only be a “dictator” on Day One of his presidency to address the border and domestic oil production.

“I’m going to be, you know he keeps, we love this guy, he says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said, ‘No, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling.’ After that I’m not a dictator,” Trump said.

The former president’s comments came days after former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican who lost her seat to a Trump-backed primary challenger last year after she participated in the House commission that probed the January 6, 2021, insurrection, said the nation would be “sleepwalking into a dictatorship” if Trump wins next year.

“Do you in any way have any plans whatsoever if reelected president to abuse power, to break the law, to use the government to go after people?” Hannity initially asked.

Trump did not directly answer that question and instead pointed to his own four indictments and dismissed the 91 criminal charges he faces as “made up charges.”

Later, Hannity again pressed Trump, asking, “Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?”

“Except for day one. I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill,” Trump replied.

Hannity responded that Trump’s answer sounded policy-focused, rather than addressing whether he’d seek political retribution against enemies.

Trump also pointed to his own four indictments and dismissed the 91 criminal charges he faces as “made up charges” and “nonsense.”

“I often say Al Capone, he was one of the greatest of all time, if you like criminals,” he said. “And he got indicted once. I got indicted four times.”

Despite Trump’s answer Tuesday night, his campaign and allies have long plotted to wield executive power in unprecedented ways if he is elected again.

Trump’s plan includes asserting more White House control over the Justice Department, an institution the former president has said he would utilize to seek revenge on his critics, including former allies.

“I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family,” the former president said in June after his arraignment in Florida. “I will totally obliterate the Deep State.”

During a recent interview with Univision, Trump took it a step further.

“If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say go down and indict them,” he said.

In videos and speeches, he has laid out his plans to gut the current Justice system by firing “radical Marxist prosecutors that are destroying America.”

It’s part of a broader effort that would break down legal restrictions and traditional protections against political interference and give the White House more authority to install ideological allies throughout the federal government.

Part of Trump’s plans would reclassify tens of thousands of civil service workers — who typically remain on the job as presidents and their administrations change — as at-will employees, a move that would make it much easier to fire them.

Trump said in a March video that he would sign an executive order doing so, which he said would allow him “to remove rogue bureaucrats.” He vowed to “wield that power very aggressively.”

If Trump is elected next year and pursues the blueprint his campaign and allies are now developing, legal experts say it would lead to years of legal battles and political clashes with Congress over the limits of presidential authority.

Biden, meanwhile, has said the threat posed by another Trump presidency is central to his rationale for seeking a second term.

Biden told Democratic donors Tuesday he wasn’t confident he’d be seeking another term if Trump wasn’t running for the White House, a notably candid assessment of his reelection rationale as he enters a likely rematch with his 2020 rival.

“If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running,” he said, saying Democrats “cannot let him win.”

Here are other key moments from Trump’s town hall:

Trump predicts Biden bails on 2024 election

Trump also said he thinks Biden, who at 81 is four years older than Trump, won’t remain the Democratic nominee by the time the November 2024 election arrives.

“I personally don’t think he makes it. I think he’s in bad shape physically,” Trump said.

One name he floated: California Gov. Gavin Newsom, with whom he said he had a good relationship in the past.

“He’s slick, but he’s got no facts,” Trump said of Newsom.

The former president made clear he’d watched Newsom and DeSantis debate last week on Hannity’s program.

“Considering that he didn’t have the facts, I thought he did well,” Trump said of Newsom. “He’d certainly be one.”

He also noted the political reality of bypassing Vice President Kamala Harris, saying that Democrats would anger Black voters by doing so.

Trump hits DeSantis on Social Security

Trump took a swing at Ron DeSantis, one of his top 2024 GOP rivals, saying the Florida governor wants “to play around with your Social Security.”

He was referencing DeSantis’ votes as a congressman for nonbinding budget resolutions that would have raised the retirement age to 70.

Trump’s comments came after Hannity asked about the national debt. Trump — who years ago supported some of the same policies he now criticizes his rivals for backing — said the United States can eliminate looming entitlement shortfalls by expanding domestic oil and gas production.

“We have money laying the ground, far greater than anything we can do by hurting senior citizens with their Social Security,” Trump said.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

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