Trump says town hall event has ‘nothing to do’ with debate prep

SANDOWN, New Hampshire – Donald Trump took the stage Thursday inside a sweltering and crowded town hall here to take questions from a hand-picked group of supporters just days before he is set to participate in a town hall-style debate against Hillary Clinton.

But Trump, despite reports to the contrary, insisted the town hall forum had “nothing to do” with the upcoming debate on Sunday, despite the presence of a moderator fielding questions from voters and a clock timing his responses to two minutes each.

“They were saying this is practice for Sunday. This isn’t practice,” Trump said. “We’re just here because we wanted to be here.”

He added: “This has nothing to do with Sunday.”

Trump opened up the forum by remarking on everything from his standing in various polls to mocking Clinton’s decision to take time off from the campaign trail to prepare from the next debate.

“It’s not debate prep. She’s resting, she’s resting. She’s resting and I want to be with the American people. I want to be with the people from New Hampshire,” Trump said in his opening remarks.

And before launching into the question-and-answer portion of the night, Trump read from prepared remarks extending his prayers to those living in the path of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm set to make landfall in Florida on Friday.

“To all of my friends in Florida, please know that we are praying for you and everyone in the path you’ve got to take care of yourself, you’ve got to get out of the area, you’ve got to listen. You’ve got to listen because it could be a really bad one,” Trump said, adding that he spoke with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a supporter of his, earlier in the day.

CNN’s Maeve Reston contributed to this report.

By Jeremy Diamond, CNN