NEW YORK >> Former President Donald Trump declined to rule out abusing power if he returns to the White House after Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity asked him Tuesday to respond to growing Democratic criticism of his rhetoric.
The GOP presidential front-runner has talked about targeting his rivals — referring to them as “vermin” — and vowed to seek retribution if he wins a second term for what he argues are politically motivated prosecutions against him. As Trump has dominated the Republican presidential primary, President Joe Biden has stepped up his own warnings, contending Trump is ” determined to destroy American democracy.”
“Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?” Hannity asked Trump in the interview taped in Davenport, Iowa.
“Except for day one,” Trump responded. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.”
Trump then repeated his assertion. “I love this guy,” he said of the Fox News host. “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator.’”
Earlier in the interview, Hannity had asked Trump if he “in any way” had “any plans whatsoever, if reelected president, to abuse power, to break the law to use the government to go after people.”
“You mean like they’re using right now?” Trump replied.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric and sweeping plans for a second term that include firing large swaths of the federal bureaucracy and targeting his rivals have alarmed Democrats and become a chief election argument for Biden as he prepares for a potential rematch against Trump.
“Donald Trump has been telling us exactly what he will do if he’s reelected and tonight he said he will be a dictator on day one. Americans should believe him,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement.
At a series of fundraisers Tuesday, Biden again warned that Trump and his allies are out to “destroy” democratic institutions as he assailed the GOP front-runner, who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election and is facing criminal charges connected to those efforts.
Trump, meanwhile, has tried to turn the tables on Biden and argued in a Saturday speech in Iowa that the president is the real “destroyer of American democracy” as he repeated his longstanding contention that the four criminal indictments against him show Biden is misusing the federal justice system to damage his chief political rival.
Trump has promised to prosecute Biden if he wins.
Hannity, a longtime Trump supporter and adviser, has often seemed to use his interviews to coach the former president to say things that will benefit him politically. The questions Tuesday appeared to be another example of those efforts.
The event had been advertised as a town hall the day before Trump’s leading rivals gather at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the fourth GOP debate. While town halls typically feature audience questions, only Hannity asked questions of Trump on Tuesday. He taped a similar interview with Trump in July.
Trump is once again planning to skip the debate and will spend the evening at a fundraiser in Florida instead.
Trump has been dominating his rivals both nationally and in Iowa, which will kick off the election with its caucuses on Jan. 15. That includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has staked his campaign on the first-in-the-nation contest, and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has been gaining momentum following a series of well-reviewed performances at the debates.
DeSantis, who on Saturday completed his campaign promise to visit each of Iowa’s 99 counties, has repeatedly called on Trump to join the debates.
“Get out of your dungeon. Get off the keyboard, stand on the debate stage and let’s go,” he said Tuesday in Florida.
After the taping, Trump visited the Front Street Pub & Eatery in Davenport, where he stopped by tables and signed red “Make America Great Again” hats, according to video of the event.