Santorum: 'I don't think' Trump should have praised Gianforte

Santorum: 'I don't think' Trump should have praised Gianforte
© Greg Nash

CNN contributor Rick Santorum criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE Friday for the president's praise of Montana GOP Rep. Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianfortePence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race On The Trail: How Nancy Pelosi could improbably become president Supreme Court denies push to add Green Party candidates to Montana ballot MORE for the congressman's body-slam of a reporter last year during the state's special election.

In an interview on CNN, Santorum was asked by CNN's John Berman whether he believed Trump was right to use the issue as a joke on Gianforte's behalf during a campaign rally in Montana Thursday.

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"No I don't, I don't think the president should be saying that," Santorum responded. "I've always been concerned about the president's language on a lot of these things."

"I excuse a lot of that because I think the president uses a lot of hyperbole," the former Pennsylvania senator said. "I always say 'don't look at what the president says, look at what the president does.' But the bottom line is, this is not helpful. This is not good."

Santorum's comments come after the president was roundly criticized by journalists on social media Thursday night after he suggested that Gianforte's 2017 assault of Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, probably helped Gianforte win the state's special congressional election a day after the incident.

“We endorsed Greg really early, but I heard that he had body-slammed a reporter. And he was way up … and I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election.’ But then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him,’ and it did … He’s a great guy and a tough cookie,” Trump said Thursday.

The remarks were sharply rebuked by news organizations, including the British-based Guardian and the country's Prime Minister Theresa May.

"He obviously made comments at a political rally and those are for him but more generally we would always say that violence or intimidation against a journalist is completely unacceptable,” a spokeswoman for Britain's prime minister said on Friday.

"The President of the United States tonight applauded the assault of an American journalist working for The Guardian," added the newspaper's editor, John Mulholland, in a statement.

"We hope decent people will denounce these remarks and that the president will see fit to apologize for them," he added.