Prosecutor formally declines to file charges against Trump aide

Authorities in Florida on Thursday formally declined to prosecute Donald Trump’s campaign manager on a charge of battery stemming from a run-in with a reporter.

Police in Jupiter, Fla., charged Corey Lewandowski with simple battery last month after former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields said he forcefully grabbed her arm as she attempted to ask Trump a question.

{mosads}Fields later tweeted a photo and gave a television interview to show bruising on her arm.

Prosecutors maintained that while there was cause to arrest Lewandowski last month, there was not enough evidence to support a criminal prosecution.

“This office will not be filing charges against Corey Lewandwoski for battery,” Palm Beach County state prosecutor David Aronberg said during a lengthy press conference announcing the decision. 

“The evidence cannot prove all legally required elements of the crime alleged and is insufficient to support a criminal prosecution,” according to a court document from his office.

The decision is a win for the Trump campaign, which had steadily defended Lewandowski and will now avoid the distraction of a continuing prosecution over the battery charge.

Trump’s campaign issued a statement saying that Lewandowski was “gratified” by the decision to drop the misdemeanor charge, thanking prosecutors for reviewing the case and adding, “the matter is now concluded.”

At the same time, the whole incident was a black mark on the GOP frontrunner’s operation, which is struggling to win over women voters.

Fields criticized the decision by prosecutors after news broke about their decision on Wednesday night.

She said she was considering defamation charges against Trump and his campaign chief. Aronberg said he spoke with Fields earlier Thursday, saying, “It was clear to us she was disappointed by the decision.”

Lewandowski had called Fields “delusional” while initially pushing back against her claim, and the campaign sought to characterize her as simply seeking attention before surveillance video of the incident was released. In a full-court defense of his aide, Trump then questioned the veracity of her claims as well as the bruising that she showed publicly.

A lawyer for Lewandowski also warned Fields on Thursday against the defamation suit.

“I don’t find it to be that good of an idea to file a defamation claim on this kind of case, because it opens up a very large door to your past, it opens up a large door to other things that could be going on,” Brad Cohen said on CNN.

Lewandowski had taken a lower-profile role in Trump’s campaign after the charges amid suggestions of a power struggle within the operation. Trump last week promoted newly hired strategist Paul Manafort to handle the campaign’s efforts to lock up delegates and secure his footing as the GOP front-runner.

Aronberg told reporters that while there was “no doubt” Lewandowski pulled Fields as she attempted to ask Trump a question in a scrum of media after the press conference, prosecutors had a higher burden to prove than police.

He said that it was “not uncommon” for campaign aides to assist Secret Service “in clearing a safe pathway” for candidates as they navigate through a crowd, though he noted that a Secret Service official was pictured behind Fields as she attempted to ask Trump a question and didn’t appear bothered by her questioning the candidate.

Despite images clearly showing Lewandowski intentionally grabbing Fields’ arm against her will, Aronberg said, “They do not outweigh the reasonable hypothesis of innocence based on the real-time facts and circumstances recorded on the video.”

Prosecutors made the decision to not file charges after reviewing available video, police reports, photographs, statements from Fields and other eyewitnesses as well as audio recording from Fields’ phone – much of which was already released in the case.

State attorney Adrienne Ellis said that the prosecutor’s office spoke with Lewandowski’s attorney in person and over the phone, saying that “he came in with what he believed were the facts of the case … and we took that into consideration.” 

Aronberg said Trump also personally reached out to the office to give his version of the case, adding the businessman “urged us to do the right thing.”

Prosecutors maintained that while an apology in the case didn’t impact their decision to not file the charges, it could have prevented the issue, with Aronberg stating, “Had an apology been given at the beginning of all this we could have avoided the whole criminal justice process for this matter.”

Fields indicated Wednesday that the prosecutor’s office had reached out to her two weeks ago, asking if she would agree to an apology from Lewandowski. She said she would but that she never heard back. Lewandowski’s attorneys drafted a brief apology to Fields that they showed to prosecutors, according to Aronberg, but it’s unclear if it was ever sent.

Trump himself has previously suggested an apology wasn’t an option, claiming it would be used as “ammunition” against his campaign. 

Given the significant media attention and scrutiny surrounding the case, Aronberg on Thursday also sought to dispel rumors that the decision to dismiss the charges was influenced by politics, noting that he’s a registered Democrat and going as far as to detail his encounters with several presidential figures in insisting politics didn’t play a role in his office’s decision to not file the charges.

He told reporters Thursday that he shared a dorm bathroom with Ted Cruz during his first year of law school at Harvard about two decades ago, knew Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) from the Florida legislature and had met Trump himself “on a few occasions,” including visiting his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida with several hundred other attendees, though insisted none of the instances were relevant. 

Tags Donald Trump Marco Rubio Ted Cruz
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