A Breitbart reporter has filed a criminal police report against Donald Trump's campaign manager over an altercation at a recent campaign rally, the Independent Journal Review first reported.
The reporter, Michelle Fields, has said she was bruised after being "manhandled" by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. The Jupiter, Florida, police department confirmed Friday that it has received a report about an "alleged battery" that occurred at Trump National earlier this week.
Just in: Jupiter Police statement on investigation of "alleged battery" at "Trump National" on March 8: pic.twitter.com/O4TCn24Yhv— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) March 11, 2016
Authorities have not confirmed that Lewandowski is a subject of a criminal investigation, and Trump's campaign has attacked Fields's story.
The campaign released the following statement Friday:
The accusation, which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign, is entirely false. As one of the dozens of individuals present as Mr. Trump exited the press conference, I did not witness any encounter. In addition to our staff, which had no knowledge of said situation, not a single camera or reporter of more than 100 in attendance captured the alleged incident."
Also on Friday, Breitbart published a story in which it openly disagreed with Fields's characterization of the incident. Citing an extensive review of video footage, Breitbart said that it appears "unlikely" that Lewandowski was responsible for roughing up Fields.
However, both Fields and a reporter at the Washington Post have said they saw Lewandowski grab Fields. Fields has been suspended from her position at Breitbart.
Breitbart's story on Friday was immediately questioned by skeptical journalists who accused the publication, which has been favorable to Trump in its coverage, of trying to shore up its relationship with the Republican frontrunner.
How it all started
This all started on Tuesday night at a Trump rally in Florida, where Fields stepped forward to ask Trump a question as he was trying to leave.
According to Washington Post reporter Ben Terris, who was there, Lewandowski grabbed Fields and yanked her out of the candidate's way. According to Terris, Lewandowski nearly knocked Fields over. Fields later tweeted a photo of her arm that showed finger-size bruising. Politico obtained an audio recording of the incident which reflected Terris's account.
Trump's campaign denies this even happened, and has taken to Twitter to question Fields's character.
The matter isn't resolved. Fields has fired back on social media, and her story has been circulating around the web. Here's what we know.
Terris, of the Post, described the event this way:
As security parted the masses to give him passage out of the chandelier-lit ballroom, Michelle Fields, a young reporter for Trump-friendly Breitbart News, pressed forward to ask the GOP front-runner a question. I watched as a man with short-cropped hair and a suit grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way. He was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 41-year-old campaign manager.
Fields stumbled. Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm.
He spoke with Fields immediately after the incident. She appeared shaken.
"I’m just a little spooked," she told Terris. "No one has grabbed me like that before."
She took [Terris's] arm and squeezed it hard. "I don’t even want to do it as hard as he did," she said, "because it would hurt."
On Thursday, Fields recounted the incident in a post on Breitbart in her own words:
I wasn’t called upon to ask a question during the televised press conference, but afterwards Trump wandered around, stopping at every reporter to take their questions. When he approached me, I asked him about his view on an aspect of affirmative action.
Trump acknowledged the question, but before he could answer I was jolted backwards. Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.
I hope this article answers those questions and I can get back to reporting the news, not being a part of it.
She also sent a tweet that appears to show her arm was bruised:
I guess these just magically appeared on me @CLewandowski_@realDonaldTrump. So weird. pic.twitter.com/oD8c4D7tw3— Michelle Fields (@MichelleFields) March 10, 2016
Trump's camp says this never happened
Trump's people dispute this account. In fact, they say it never even happened.
Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks released a statement to ABC News denying the incident in its entirety, claiming that neither Fields nor Terris had ever met Lewandowski, let alone seen him harm the reporter.
"The accusation which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign is entirely false," Hicks said in the statement. "There are often large crowds aggressively seeking access to Mr. Trump and our staff would never do anything to harm another individual, while at the same time understanding that Mr. Trump and his personal space should never be invaded."
Trump's strategy is to go personal
It doesn't stop at denial. Hicks goes on to question Fields's credibility, saying Fields has a history of "becoming part of the news story." She cited Fields's wish to move on from the incident and continue with her campaign reporting:
NEW: Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks responds to allegations campaign manager assaulted Breitbart reporter: pic.twitter.com/LHRMKXzy3K— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 10, 2016
Lewandowski jumped on board with the personal attacks, tweeting that Fields had previously "accused" former US Congress member Allen West of groping her — citing a story run by Charles C. Johnson, whom Gawker once called "the web's worst journalist":
Michelle Fields is an attention seeker who once claimed Allen West groped her but later went silent. https://t.co/J86Ej42eYx— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) March 10, 2016
As Johnson himself says, Fields "repeatedly and emphatically refused comment on the record" for his piece.
This is not the first time Trump and his campaign have gone after a perceived adversary on personal grounds. The New York Times documented recently how the campaign has gone on offense repeatedly through the campaign, using personal attacks to go after opponents, particularly using Twitter, as was the case again Fields:
With his enormous online platform, Mr. Trump has badgered and humiliated those who have dared to cross him during the presidential race. He has latched onto their vulnerabilities, mocking their physical characteristics, personality quirks and, sometimes, their professional setbacks.
The media has been a big target for Trump, who has been known to mock publications and networks during his rallies throughout the campaign. And he has made headlines for holding grudges against journalists, regardless of their publication's partisan leanings (remember the Megyn Kelly/Fox News feud that spanned several months).
Breitbart was forced to tiptoe around the issue
Breitbart, meanwhile, has been forced to walk a fine line between backing its reporter's account and maintaining a friendly relationship with the GOP's leading presidential candidate.
Breitbart CEO Larry Solov released a statement Tuesday night using skeptical language about the incident:
It’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and made physical contact with our reporter. What Michelle has told us directly is that someone "grabbed her arm" and while she did not see who it was, Ben Terris of the Washington Post told her that it was Corey Lewandowski. If that’s the case, Corey owes Michelle an immediate apology.
On Wednesday, however, Solov responded to the Trump campaign's statement with more resolve, expressing disappointment for "in particular their effort to demean Michelle's previous reporting."
.@BreitbartNews statement defending @MichelleFields & calling on @CLewandowski_ to apologize for grabbing her. pic.twitter.com/1gemquVMFl— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) March 10, 2016
Breitbart was not wrong to be wary about what it says to the Trump campaign. After Solov named Terris as a source in his original statement, Terris, who said he had interviews scheduled with Lewandowski and the Trump team in his account of the incident, had his meetings canceled.