Pressed by Sean Hannity to promise not to abuse power, Donald Trump agreed he wouldn’t, “other than Day 1,” adding: “We’re closing the border. And we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.”
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Donald Trump, in a town hall on Fox News, repeated his frequent campaign-trail lament that he has been indicted more times than the gangster Al Capone.
Twice during a town hall on “Fox News” on Tuesday night, Sean Hannity asked former President Donald J. Trump to say categorically that he would not abuse presidential power and retaliate against his political opponents if elected next year.
Both times, Mr. Trump declined to give an outright denial.
First, Mr. Hannity, the moderator, asked Mr. Trump to respond to concerns raised by recent reporting that has detailed his violent rhetoric on the campaign trail and his vow to use the Justice Department against his political foes.
“Do you in any way have any plans whatsoever, if re-elected president, to abuse power?” Mr. Hannity asked. “To break the law? To use the government to go after people?”
Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, deflected. “You mean like they’re using right now?” he responded, an allusion to his claims that President Biden has weaponized the Justice Department against him. He then turned to his frequent campaign-trail lament that he has been indicted more times than the gangster Al Capone.
But Mr. Hannity, a longtime Trump ally, was apparently unsatisfied, and five minutes later, he brought up the issue again. “You are promising America tonight, you would never abuse this power as retribution against anybody?” he said.
“Except for Day 1,” Mr. Trump said breezily. There was the smallest silence. “Except for—” Mr. Hannity responded, sounding a bit flustered.
“Look,” Mr. Trump joked to the crowd watching him in Davenport, Iowa. “He’s going crazy.”
And even as Mr. Hannity tried to clarify that Mr. Trump had no intention of abusing his office, Mr. Trump did not state a clear aversion to the idea of authoritarian power.
“This guy, he says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’” Mr. Trump said, referring to Mr. Hannity. “I said, ‘No, no, no — other than Day 1.’ We’re closing the border. And we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.”
Both exchanges underscored a growing challenge for some on the Trump team who are privately aware that his comments are of growing concern to voters ahead of next year’s general election.
The Biden campaign has sought to seize on recent reporting about plans being made by Mr. Trump and his allies that would reshape the American presidency, vastly expanding presidential power and upending central elements of American government and the rule of law.
Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, said in a statement that Mr. Trump “has been telling us exactly what he will do if he’s re-elected, and tonight he said he will be a dictator on Day 1. Americans should believe him.”
Mr. Trump’s comments were a stark break from an interview in which he was largely on friendly territory. He and Mr. Hannity have a long relationship, and both of them warmly recalled past conversations they had had over Mr. Trump’s political career.
Mr. Hannity also did not ask Mr. Trump about his rivals in the Republican primary, who will face off in a debate on Wednesday that Mr. Trump is skipping to attend a fund-raiser in Florida.
Still, Mr. Trump made brief mention of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, criticizing her for taking donations from Democrats, and criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida for votes in Congress he took that appeared to support changing Social Security benefits.
Jonathan Swan contributed reporting.
Michael Gold is a political correspondent for The Times covering the campaigns of Donald J. Trump and other candidates in the 2024 presidential elections. More about Michael Gold
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