Donald Trump's campaign manager will not be prosecuted, after Florida police charged him with battery for grabbing a reporter at a campaign event last month.
While Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields still has the option to press defamation charges, a Florida judge has decided Corey Lewandowski's case will not be pursued further, Politico reported.
Trump's campaign manager Lewandowski was served with a notice to appear from the Jupiter, Florida, Police Department last month after Fields filed a criminal report that he "manhandled" her at a campaign rally in early March.
Trump has stood by his campaign manager despite Fields's claims, a surveillance video corroborates her story, and a police report that had charged Lewandowski with battery.
"The easiest thing: 'Corey, you're fired!' I can't do that," Trump said at a campaign rally in Wisconsin Tuesday. "I can't destroy a man for that."
In fact, Trump supported Lewandowski since the accusations first surfaced. First he denied it ever happened. Then he denied the video footage existed. Then he said the video footage showed nothing. And then argued that Fields prompted the whole thing by first grabbing Trump while holding a pen (which Trump says Secret Service could have easily mistaken for a tiny bomb).
Jupiter police also released the video they reviewed before charging Lewandowski, published by Talking Points Memo:
Lewandowski has come under a lot of scrutiny since the incident and is undoubtedly happy it reached this conclusion. (You can read more about him and the scandals surrounding him here.)
"Corey Lewandowski is gratified by the decision to drop the misdemeanor charge and appreciates the thoughtful consideration and professionalism by the Palm Beach State Attorney and his staff who carefully reviewed this matter, as well as Mr. Trump's loyalty and the support of his colleagues and family during this time. The matter is now concluded," Trump's campaign said in a statement in light of the news.
But how Trump responded to the whole thing was an example of a campaign tactic he has used all along: Even in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting contradicting his statements, he does not back down and he definitely does not apologize.
And while politicians are notorious for ducking the truth and skirting apologies, Trump's campaign has taken it to another level – where photographic evidence and violence is not enough to change his tune.
Trump's case for Lewandowski so blatantly denied evidence that it was hard to argue against
The Trump campaign was "completely confident [Lewandowski] will be exonerated," according to a statement released to Politico reporter Hadas Gold:
Trump Camp statement on Corey Lewandowksi charges pic.twitter.com/Oq6R0QP4rH— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) March 29, 2016
This statement was only the start. Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson pledged full support for the campaign manager adding, without hesitation, that Lewandowski would stay on with the campaign even if convicted.
Then Trump began tweeting his take on the evidence: that "nothing" questionable happened.
Wow, Corey Lewandowski, my campaign manager and a very decent man, was just charged with assaulting a reporter. Look at tapes-nothing there!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2016
The "nothing" quickly transformed into what will undoubtedly be part of Lewandowski's defense of the incident, when Trump tweeted that Fields prompted the campaign manager's aggressive response by grabbing him to "shout questions" at him.
Victory press conference was over.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2016
Why is she allowed to grab me and shout questions? Can I press charges? pic.twitter.com/qbW2RjkINX
Trump pushed this story home throughout his campaign rallies in Wisconsin and during his town hall with CNN's Anderson Cooper, where he said by Field's account he might press charges as well.
What is this whole thing all about?
This all started 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 and witnessed the incident, Lewandowski grabbed Fields and yanked her out of the candidate's way. According to Terris, Lewandowski nearly knocked Fields over.
Terris 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."
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
Politico obtained an audio recording of the incident, which reflected Terris's account.
Breitbart became a chaotic mess
Breitbart, the organization for which Fields worked at the time and has had a very pro-Trump editorial policy, also published a story in which it openly disagreed with Fields's characterization of the incident. Citing an extensive review of video footage, Breitbart said it appeared "unlikely" that Lewandowski was responsible for roughing up Fields.
Fields was suspended from her post at Breitbart and later resigned.
Breitbart's story was immediately questioned by skeptical journalists who accused the publication of trying to shore up its relationship with the Republican frontrunner.
Breitbart CEO Larry Solov released a statement 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.
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’s newsroom spiraled into chaos after the allegations, resulting in not only Fields’s resignation but also the departure of other top editors.
But the conservative media outlet 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.
Trump's strategy is to go personal
The campaign released statements suggesting that Fields's motives in filing the report might be suspect. Campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said Fields has a history of "becoming part of the news story." 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 the offense repeatedly through the campaign, using personal attacks to go after opponents, particularly using Twitter, as was the case against 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).
And this incident ate up much of the political news cycle in March.
Read the full police report