Scalise: Trump was 'clearly ribbing' Gianforte with remarks on body-slamming reporter

Scalise: Trump was 'clearly ribbing' Gianforte with remarks on body-slamming reporter
© Greg Nash

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Trump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' MORE (R-La.) on Friday defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE's remarks the night before at a Montana rally implying that Rep. Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianforteProviding more information on the prescription drug supply chain will help lower costs for all Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 MORE (R-Mont.) assaulting a Guardian reporter in 2017 helped him win his election.

Scalise tweeted that the Trump was "clearly ribbing" Gianforte for the incident, and that it was "obvious he was not encouraging his supporters to engage in attacks" noting that "not one person harassed the numerous media reporters who were present."

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Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter for the U.K. paper the night before his special congressional election. He was sentenced to a 180-day deferred sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and a $300 fine.

“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 at the campaign event in Missoula.

Since being shot at a Republican baseball practice last year, Scalise has consistently called out violent rhetoric in politics, but argued that this instance was more Trump joking than an endorsement of violence.

Others did not think Trump's jab was so harmless.

Literary and human rights organization PEN America blasted the president's comments Friday, saying that "Trump’s remarks are a chilling reminder that US global leadership on press freedom has collapsed utterly under the President’s watch."

And the White House Correspondents’ Association said that "All Americans should recoil from the president's praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job."

British Prime Minster Theresa May's office also commented that Trump "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."