Trump campaign chief will plead not guilty to battery accusation
30 March 2016, 13:03
Washington - Donald Trump's presidential campaign manager was arrested and charged with battery on Tuesday for allegedly grabbing a reporter, in a dramatic new illustration of the tensions surrounding the Republican frontrunner's White House bid.
Corey Lewandowski is accused of grabbing reporter Michelle Fields so hard that it left bruises on her arm during a March 8 Trump news conference at a golf club he owns in the Palm Beach County town of Jupiter.
"He was arrested this morning and released with a notice to appear," Adam Brown, a Jupiter police spokesperson, told AFP, saying Lewandowski was not handcuffed after he turned himself in.
The 42-year-old is due in court on May 4, according to an affidavit obtained by AFP.
The billionaire candidate, whose rallies have been hit by a string of protests and outbreaks of sporadic violence, gave unequivocal backing to his top staffer, prompting Fields to defend herself on Twitter and accuse Trump of lying.
Ted Cruz, Trump's main Republican rival, and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton wasted little time in weighing in, blaming Trump for fomenting a toxic atmosphere around the campaign.
It is not the first time Lewandowski has caused controversy. In a separate incident caught on tape also earlier this month at a campaign event in Tucson, Arizona, he appeared to grab one man by the scruff of the neck during a melee.
The Trump campaign denied the top aide had been arrested on Tuesday, saying in a statement: "Mr Lewandowski was issued a Notice to Appear and given a court date. He was not arrested.
"Mr Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge. He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court. He is completely confident that he will be exonerated."
Trump, who has been engaged in a running feud with much of the media, told reporters from his plane: "I tell him, never settle the case, go all the way."
According to a police report seen by AFP, Fields, who has since resigned from the conservative site Breitbart News showed "bruising from what appeared to be several finger marks indicating a grabbing type injury."
Police said their investigation found "probable cause" to charge Lewandowski with misdemeanor simple battery over the alleged incident, which took place as the news conference was wrapping up and she followed Trump to ask him a question.
At that point, she says, Lewandowski grabbed her forearm in a scene witnessed by a Washington Post journalist.
"I think if you look at it he was trying to block her, that's the way I view it," Trump added to journalists.
"She's grabbing me and asking questions. She's not even supposed to ask questions."
Speaking to a CNN town hall-style meeting, Trump said he had no intention of sacking Lewandowski.
Trump, a reality television star who has never held elected office, harnessed the announcement of the police action to enjoy more airtime across US news networks, while also firing off messages on Twitter hitting out at Fields.
"Wow, Corey Lewandowski, my campaign manager and a very decent man, was just charged with assaulting a reporter. Look at tapes, nothing there!" Trump tweeted.
But Fields refused to back down, tweeting back: "Because my story never changed. Seriously, just stop lying."
Lewandowski has also had his say on Twitter, telling Fields on March 11: "You are totally delusional. I never touched you.
"As a matter of fact, I have never even met you."
Trump and the media have made for a volatile mix on the campaign trail, with the brash real estate mogul not shying away from trash-talking reporters to their faces and encouraging his staff and supporters to follow suit.
Fox New recently accused him of harboring a "sick obsession" with prominent news anchor Megyn Kelly and waging a campaign of crude verbal abuse against her.
Trump also faces accusations of misogyny over his prolific insults and personal attacks targeting prominent females.
He has notably taken shots at the wife of Cruz, who called Tuesday's development "very sad."
"This is the consequence of the culture of the Trump campaign," Cruz told reporters.
Clinton also pointed the finger at Trump, saying: "I said that he is like a political arsonist. He has set some fires and then people have acted in ways that I think are deplorable, and therefore he has to be held responsible."
A Chicago Trump rally earlier this month was canceled amid scuffles between hundreds of demonstrators and his supporters as police struggled to maintain order.