Trump backs off support for man charged with assault at rally

Donald Trump is backing away from covering legal costs for a supporter who was charged with assaulting a black protester at a rally in North Carolina.

REUTERS/Cumberland County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters
John Franklin McGraw of Linden, North Carolina, is shown in this booking photo provided by the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office in Fayetteville, North Carolina, March 10, 2016. McGraw, is facing criminal charges after police say he assaulted a protester being removed from a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, local media reported on Thursday.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is backing away from a suggestion that he might cover legal costs for a supporter who was involved in an altercation with another person at a rally last week in North Carolina.

In a telephone interview Tuesday with ABC's "Good Morning America," Trump was asked about a series of violent incidents at his campaign events and repeated his statement that he doesn't "condone violence."

At the rally last week in Fayetteville, North Carolina, an older white Trump supporter was caught on video punching a younger African-American protester as police led the protester away. The supporter, 78-year-old John Franklin McGraw, was later charged with assault and disorderly conduct.

Trump suggested afterward that he might help the supporter, saying he'd asked his staff to look into it.

But he reversed field in Tuesday's interview, saying, "I never said I was going to pay for fees." Asked if it had appeared he was encouraging violence with his initial statement, Trump replied, "Well, maybe so. Maybe that's why I wouldn't do it."

As The Christian Science Monitor reported at a rally in Boca Raton, Fla., Sunday, even ardent Trump supporters want him to tone down the rhetoric. 

Patrick Altmiller, a financial adviser from Harrison City, Penn., and others interviewed said they wished Trump would cool the inflammatory rhetoric, which they don’t see as befitting a possible future president. Trump likes to talk tough about protesters, recently wishing out loud he could punch one in the face, and telling a crowd to beat up someone if they throw a tomato, adding that he would pay the legal fees.

“I think it’s pretty empty, but he shouldn’t do it,” said Altmiller. “He should act more presidential and cut that stuff out.”

Julie Akers, a Trump supporter from nearby Palm Beach Gardens, ascribed his rhetoric in part to the fact that he’s a political novice: “He has a lot to learn.”

But Ms. Akers, a psychotherapist, is still 100 percent behind the real estate mogul’s presidential bid. “We need a huge change, and he’s the one to do it,” she says. But “he should tone it down, she adds. “Part of this is the way he is – he doesn’t want to lose.”

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