Trump raises new alarms, saying he wouldn't be a 'dictator' except on 'Day One'

At a Fox town hall in Iowa, he avoided answering whether he would "abuse power."

ByJonathan Karl ABCNews logo
Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Trump says he wouldn't be a 'dictator' except on 'Day One'
At a town hall in Iowa with Fox News host Sean Hannity, the former president declined to rule out abusing power when asked repeatedly whether he would do so during a second term.

Donald Trump is raising new alarms about what he would do if he makes it back to the White House, even referring to himself in an interview Tuesday night as a "dictator," but only, he said, on "Day One."

At a town hall in Iowa with Fox News host Sean Hannity, the former president declined to rule out abusing power when asked repeatedly whether he would do so during a second term.

"I want to be very, very clear on this -- to be clear," Hannity asked, citing criticism of Trump's previous comments, including that he would seek "retribution."

"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?" he said.

"You mean like they're using right now?" Trump said, dodging the question.

Minutes later, Hannity pressed him again for an answer.

"Under no circumstances -- you are promising America tonight -- you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?"

"Except for Day One" Trump responded.

"Meaning?" Hannity asked.

"I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill...," Trump said.

"That's not retribution," Hannity interjected.

"We love this guy," Trump said, referring to Hannity. "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.'"

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Aug. 5, 2022, in Waukesha, Wis.
(AP Photo/Morry Gash, file)

Trump's comment comes as President Joe Biden is making what he calls the threat Trump poses to democracy a big part of his campaign message.

During a closed-door fundraiser Tuesday, Biden told donors, "If Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running. But we cannot let him win."

The president later walked that back, telling reporters he'd still run even if Trump dropped out. A senior Biden campaign adviser told ABC News Biden is trying to underscore what's at stake in 2024.

Biden is facing low approval ratings - and a slew of polls showing him neck-and-neck with Trump even with the former president facing multiple criminal indictments.

A new court filing in one of those cases makes it clear that special counsel Jack Smith is going to try to place the blame for the violence on Jan. 6 squarely on Trump -- making the case that rioters were doing essentially what Trump wanted them to do.

Smith plans to use Trump's own words to argue the former president is not only responsible for the violence on Jan. 6 - but that "the rioters' disruption of the certification proceeding is exactly what the defendant intended."

Smith points to Trump's embrace of those who have been convicted and sentenced to prison for storming the Capitol.

"I call them the J6 hostages, not prisoners. I call them the hostages, what's happened - and it's a shame," he said at a rally in Houston.

Smith cites how Trump and his campaign have elevated the so-called J6 choir - a group of prisoners who recorded a version of the national anthem from behind bars.

Trump played their recording - with video images of the violence of Jan. 6 running in the background - at the very first campaign rally of his 2024 campaign.

Smith also says he will present evidence Trump had enormous influence over the rioters, that he could stopped the violence but did not -- something Trump seemed to acknowledge in an interview with me not long after Jan. 6.

"I was thinking about going back during the problem to stop the problem, doing it myself," he said in March 2021. "Secret Service didn't like that idea too much. I could have done that and, you know what, I would have been very well received. Don't forget the people that went to Washington that day, in my opinion, they went because they thought the election was rigged. That's why they went."

Smith says Trump statements like that show these individuals acted as he directed them to, arguing it's proof of his intent that day to disrupt the certification and stop Joe Biden from taking office.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The Trump campaign responded to Smith's filing by attacking President Biden as well as the special counsel's team, accusing them of attempting to interfere in the 2024 election, claiming they are "perverting justice by trying to include claims that weren't anywhere to be found in their dreamt up, fake indictment," spokesperson Steven Cheung wrote in a statement to ABC News.

ABC News' Lalee Ibssa and Soorin Kim contributed to this report.