Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKimmel baits Trump on Twitter THE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress Protesters rally outside NYT in support of media MORE offered a fierce defense of his top lieutenant on Tuesday after campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with battery for allegedly grabbing a reporter.
Speaking aboard his private plane, Trump said Lewandowski had done nothing wrong after he was filmed apparently grabbing former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields by the arm and jerking her away from the GOP presidential front-runner’s side at a campaign event earlier this month.
“How do you know those bruises weren’t there before?” Trump told reporters. “If you’re going to get squeezed, wouldn’t you let out a scream or something? ... How did they get here? Who put them there? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer.”
The charge, and Trump’s vehement defense, is the latest lightning strike in a primary fight for the ages that’s been dominated by the businessman and former reality television star.
Trump’s remaining Republican opponents, Ted CruzTed CruzTHE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress Brietbart CEO reveals that Trump donors are part owners At CPAC, Trump lashes out at media MORE and John Kasich, quickly linked the charges against Lewandowski to Trump’s campaign, which they have criticized for engaging in schoolyard insults.
“This is the consequence of the culture of the Trump campaign, the abusive culture, when you have a campaign that is built on personal insults, on attacks and now physical violence,” Cruz told reporters in Wisconsin.
“Campaigns reflect the values of the candidate — I know ours does,” tweeted John Weaver, a strategist for Kasich. “If this bully worked for John Kasich, he would have been fired long ago.”
Trump defended Lewandowski as a family man who was being unfairly “maligned” by what he described as an opportunistic reporter.
“I just can’t stand by and watch a man’s life be destroyed,” Trump said. “It’s a very, very sad day in this country when a man can be destroyed over something like that.”
He also accused Fields of aggressively accosting him and wondered whether he should be the one pressing charges.
“She was grabbing me,” Trump insisted.
And he accused Fields of changing her story, saying that in her initial statement she indicated she was nearly dragged to the ground. Video of the incident released by the Jupiter Police Department shows what appears to be Lewandowski yanking Fields’s arm and walking past her as she sought to ask Trump a question.
“Look at her original statement before she knew we had cameras,” Trump said.
The entire physical altercation was captured on camera and played continuously Tuesday on cable news.
It largely overshadowed Trump’s visit to the hometown of Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTHE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress GOP grapples with repeal of popular ObamaCare policy Ex-Trump adviser: Ryan should be replaced if he can't execute on ObamaCare MORE.
At a campaign event in Janesville, Wis., Trump criticized the state’s economy, arguing it tarnished the record of Gov. Scott Walker. Not coincidentally, Walker had endorsed Cruz’s White House bid earlier on Tuesday.
“You look at the statistics and what’s happening with jobs in Wisconsin, you look at your $2.2 billion deficit,” Trump said. “You look at your numbers, they are so negative.”
The timing of the billionaire’s visit also raised eyebrows because it took place one week after a forceful speech by Ryan that criticized the rhetoric of the GOP primary.
Ryan didn’t meet with Trump during his visit Tuesday. Instead, the Speaker was on the road raising cash for House GOP colleagues in Fayetteville, N.C. He’ll do another fundraising event in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday before leading a congressional delegation to Israel, his first trip abroad as Speaker.
Ryan was booed by Trump’s supporters at the rally after the GOP front-runner asked the crowd what they thought of their hometown representative. The response seemed to catch Trump off guard.
“Wow, I was told be nice to Paul Ryan,” Trump responded. “Well, he’s the Speaker; he’s a nice guy.”
The Trump-Ryan relationship has run hot and cold for months.
On at least four separate occasions, Ryan, the top elected GOP official in the country, has publicly rebuked Trump — a highly unusual election-year dynamic.
However, a recent phone call between the two men was described by Trump as “conciliatory,” and Ryan has insisted countless times that he would endorse Trump if he is the eventual nominee.
The front-running candidate demurred when asked to point to one issue where he and Ryan could work together, instead saying he’d install better trade agreements as president “whether we agree or not.”
And he dismissed a question from a reporter who told him that Ryan opposes his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country.
“I don’t care if he does or not,” Trump said. “I mean, if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. But I’m saying until we find out what’s going on we have to look at it.”