NEW YORK – Former President Donald Trump repeatedly declined in an interview aired Sunday to answer questions about whether he watched the Capitol riot unfold on television, saying he would “tell people later at an appropriate time.”
Trump, the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, refused to say on NBC's “Meet the Press” how he spent Jan. 6, 2021, once the insurrection began and whether he made phone calls as his supporters stormed the seat of American democracy.
“I’m not going to tell you. I’ll tell people later at an appropriate time,” Trump told moderator Kristen Welker after she asked if he spent that afternoon watching the attack on television in a dining room at the White House.
Trump's former aides have said he sequestered himself in the room off the Oval Office to watch, at times even rewinding and rewatching some parts.
In the interview, taped Thursday at Trump's golf club in New Jersey, Trump refused to say who he called as the violence unfolded. “Why would I tell you that?” he said.
Trump said in response to Welker's pressing him about his public silence during the violence that he had made “beautiful statements" on the day of the attack.
Trump's supporters, fueled by his lies about the 2020 presidential election, stormed the building as Congress prepare to certify the victory of Democrat Joe Biden. Trump is facing federal criminal charges for his efforts to overturn his loss in that election but he is not facing charges related to the insurrection.
Trump said he might consider pardoning some of the rioters charged for their actions that day.
More than 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot and more than 600 have pleaded guilty or been convicted.
“I’m going to look at them, and I certainly might if I think it’s appropriate" to pardon them, the former president said.
Trump also said he would consider pardoning former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison orchestrating a failed plot to keep Trump in power. Trump said Tarrio was treated “horribly," according to a full transcript of the NBC interview, which included parts that were not aired.
Trump is facing 91 criminal charges across four cases in federal and state courts related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, the mishandling of classified documents and charges related to allegations of hush-money paid to cover up extramarital affairs. He has denied wrongdoing.
Trump was asked if he fears going to jail.
“No, I don’t really. I don’t even think about it. I’m built a little differently I guess,” he said.
As he pushed to overturn the election, Trump relied on a band of outside allies who undertook what federal prosecutors have called a “criminal scheme” to fraudulently overturn the 2020 results instead of relying on the advice of attorneys in the White House who urged him to accept his loss to Biden.
Trump was asked in the interview why he didn’t listen to those lawyers.
“I didn’t respect them,” Trump said.
“In many cases, I didn’t respect them. But I did respect others. I respected many others that said the election was rigged.”
Trump said he was listening both to his instincts and “different people” to guide his actions around the election's results.
The NBC appearance was Trump's first broadcast network interview since leaving office and marked Welker's debut show as host.
Trump also said he was pleased to hear Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks praising Trump for suggesting that he were elected to the White House again, he would negotiate an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Putin on Tuesday said Trump’s statements were “good” and brought “happiness.”
“Well, I like that he said that. Because that means what I’m saying is right,” Trump said on NBC.
Trump said he had had a good relationship with Putin, something he has said several times before, and denied that any deal he would seek in Ukraine would be a win for Russia and allow it to keep territory it has seized.
“That’s something that could have been negotiated,” Trump said. He went on and said, “They could have made a deal where there’s lesser territory right now than Russia’s already taken, to be honest.”
Trump repeatedly declined to say whether he would support a federal ban on abortion and he criticized a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy that was signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of Trump's top rivals in the presidential primary.
“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake," Trump said.
Trump said he did not care whether abortion was ultimately banned at a federal level or settled by laws in each state. The U.S. Supreme Court, with the support of three justices appointed by Trump, last year overturned the federal right to an abortion.
“From a pure standpoint, from a legal standpoint, I think it’s probably better” to be handled at the state level, Trump said.
“But I can live with it either way. It’s much more important, the number of weeks is much more important.”