During a rally in Montana on October 18, 2018, President Donald Trump praised Republican congressman Greg Gianforte for physically assaulting a journalist in May 2017.
On May 24, the day before a special election for Montana’s open congressional seat, then-candidate Gianforte physically assaulted Guardian U.S. reporter Ben Jacobs, after Jacobs tried to ask him a question about a Republican healthcare proposal. Jacobs suffered minor injuries and the police were called. Although Gianforte reportedly lied to the police about the circumstances of the assault, eyewitnesses confirmed that Gianforte had instigated it and he was charged with misdemeanor assault. A Fox News reporter who witnessed the assault later described it:
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"
Fox News report
The day after assaulting Jacobs, Gianforte won the special election. He was sworn into Congress on June 21, 2018. Gianforte ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to community service. He never served any jail time. As part of a civil settlement with Jacobs, Gianforte also agreed to issue a public apology and to sit for an interview with Jacobs (which he never did, according to Jacobs). He also agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which the organization earmarked to fund the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
On Oct. 18, Gianforte introduced Trump at a rally in Montana. Trump thanked Gianforte for the introduction and then fondly recalled the congressman's assault on Jacobs.
At Montana rally, Pres. Trump praises Greg Gianforte, who made national headlines during the GOP primaries for assaulting a reporter.— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 19, 2018
"Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!" Trump said to cheers. https://t.co/pej6aXuf6b pic.twitter.com/ejaSSairnK
“Greg is smart, and by the way, never wrestle him,” Trump said as the crowd laughed and cheered. “You understand that?”
“Any guy that can do a body-slam, he’s my kind of guy,” Trump continued, as he mimed picking someone up and throwing them on the ground.
Trump went on to describe how he reacted after learning that Gianforte, whom he had endorsed in the Montana special election, had assaulted a reporter.
“I shouldn’t say this, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Trump said. “So I was in Rome with a lot of the leaders from other countries, talking about all sorts of things. And I heard about it — and we endorsed Greg very early — but I heard he had body-slammed a reporter!”
At this point, Trump pointed his finger at the journalists in the press pen covering his rally.
“And he was way up,” Trump continued, referring to polls that showed Gianforte was the front-runner. “And he was way up, and I said — this was like the day of the election or just before — and I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election.’ Then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana very well. I think it might help him!’ And it did.”
Along with other journalists and press freedom advocates, Guardian US editor John Mulholland condemned Trump’s remarks.
“The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian,” he said in a statement. “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it. In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”