Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with the misdemeanor battery of Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields earlier this month.
The alleged battery occurred at a news conference in Jupiter, Fla. on March 8. The front-runner Republican presidential candidate had just finished speaking to reporters and was departing the stage when Ms. Fields, a Breitbart News staffer, attempted to speak with him from the crowd.
Trump’s campaign manager, Mr. Lewandowski, moved forward to keep the reporter away from Trump. In the process, say prosecutors, Mr. Lewandowski grabbed Fields’s arm and yanked her out of the way. Fields resigned from Breitbart, a conservative news organization, a few days later.
“This is atypical, especially for a manager,” says James Thurber, the director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “This is serious and it is unique that it has happened.”
At first, Trump’s campaign refused to acknowledge the incident. A statement by the campaign called Fields’s claims that she had been grabbed by Lewandowski, and Washington Post reporter Ben Terris’s eyewitness confirmation, “entirely false.”
The Trump campaign also initially claimed that there was no photographic proof of the incident. The Jupiter Police Department has since released video evidence of the encounter.
Trump is famous for inspiring loyalty in his staffers and supporters, and he has been loyal in return. Trump tweeted in response to the charges that his campaign manager was "very decent man, was just charged with assaulting a reporter. Look at tapes-nothing there!"
According to the Washington Post, Lewandowski turned himself in to officials Tuesday morning. “He was arrested and released with a Notice to Appear,” said Officer Adam Brown of the Jupiter Police Department, reported The Atlantic. Trump’s campaign claimed there was no arrest.
“Mr. Lewandowski was issued a notice to appear and was given a court date,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks in a statement. Referring to the “arrest/order to appear” in court papers issued by the Jupiter Police Department, Hicks said, “He was not arrested. Mr. Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge.”
Hicks said in a statement that Lewandowski will plead not guilty. “He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court,” she said. “He is completely confident that he will be exonerated.”
Lewandowski has been accused of treating protesters and reporters roughly in the past, both verbally and physically, the Atlantic reported.
Could this misdemeanor charge impact Trump’s campaign? Given his continued success after a number of incidents at campaign rallies and events, it seems unlikely, say most analysts.
“I don’t know what fazes Trump,” Dr. Thurber tells the Monitor. “His supporters don’t seem to be too bothered by it either.”
Nonetheless, Trump's rivals were quick to criticize. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the incident 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."
"That has no place in a political campaign, it has no place in our democracy," Cruz told reporters as he campaigned in Wisconsin, the Associated Press reported, suggesting that "it helps clarify for the voters what the Trump campaign is all about."
While Thurber says that the encounter may not impact Trump’s perceived electability, he says, “I think it directly reflects on the suitability of Trump as a presidential candidate. It makes our democracy look very bad.”