President Donald Trump on Thursday openly praised Representative Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a reporter in his bid for Congress last year, Washington Post reported.
The remarks from Trump at a campaign rally, staged at an airport hangar here with a mountainous backdrop, drew boisterous cheers from the conservative crowd, who applauded as Trump noted of Gianforte: “By the way, never wrestle him.”
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of – he’s my guy,” Trump said.
Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, an altercation that occurred in the final days of Gianforte’s special election race in May 2017 when Jacobs tried to interview him about the GOP health-care plan. The then-candidate grabbed Jacobs, threw him to the ground and punched him. Gianforte subsequently won the special election, and later pleaded guilty, receiving a six-month deferred sentence.
Trump had referenced the assault during a campaign swing in Billings, Mont., in September, noting in almost a winking manner to the crowd that Gianforte “has fought, in more ways than one, for your state.” But in Missoula on Thursday, a liberal enclave in the state surrounded by conservative territory, Trump went much further in his praise.
Trump recalled that as he was traveling in Rome last May, he heard that Gianforte had body-slammed a journalist shortly before voters went to the polls in his closely contested election race – and initially thought the altercation would damage Gianforte’s prospects.
“Then I said, ‘well wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him’,” Trump told the crowd in Missoula. “And it did.”
In a statement, the Guardian’s U.S. editor denounced Trump’s remarks as “an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.”
“The President of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian,” editor John Mulholland said, adding that in the wake of Khashoggi’s death, Trump’s statement “runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats.”
Gianforte is running against Democrat Kathleen Williams for reelection in Montana’s sole House district. The Gianforte praise came as Trump continued to decry the “angry mob” of Democrats, singling out Sen. Jon Tester, the Democratic senator running for reelection in this state, which favored Trump by more than 20 points in 2016. Trump called Tester “disgraceful.”