Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has denied that its manager grabbed and pulled the collar of a protester at a rally on Saturday, in another incident in a growing series of physical clashes along the Republican frontrunner’s events.
Footage posted on the internet by a CBS reporter appears to show Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, yank a protester by his collar at an event in Tucson, Arizona. A second man, behind the protester, also appears to grab the demonstrator, a young man who spins around to confront them after realizing he is being physically restrained.
Campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks denied that Lewandowski pulled the man, saying the aide “was speaking with a protestor at today’s rally in Tucson, Arizona when the individual he was speaking with was pulled from behind by the man to Lewandowski’s left.”
“The video clearly shows the protestor reacting to the man who pulled him, not to Mr Lewandowski,” she told the Guardian. “Mr Trump does not condone violence at his rallies, which are private events paid for by the campaign.”
This incident comes a little over a week after Lewandowski was accused of forcibly grabbing a female reporter for a conservative website, after a campaign press conference in Florida. The reporter, Michelle Fields, claimed that Lewandowski grabbed her hard enough to leave bruises and nearly pushed her to the ground. An eyewitness, a photo of bruises and video footage seem to back up her account, and Fields filed a criminal complaint against Lewandowski.
The top Trump aide called Fields “totally delusional”, and the candidate suggested: “Perhaps she made the story up. I think that’s what happened.”
On Monday, Texas senator and GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz said that Lewandowski’s alleged battery of Fields was “a fireable offense”.
Trump has stood by Lewandowski in the aftermath of the encounter with Fields. In his speech on election night Tuesday, Lewandowski pointedly stood at Trump’s right hand as the businessman praised him, telling him: “good job”. During the same speech, the Republican frontrunner called reporters “disgusting”.
The incident was not the only altercation at the Trump campaign event on Saturday. At least one protester was attacked at the Tucson rally by a crowd member, and several protesters in Phoenix were detained for blocking the road to a Trump event there. Trump’s campaign has been increasingly marred by violence in recent weeks, including a cancelled rally in Chicago , where scuffles broke out and a number of people were arrested, including one reporter.
The candidate has occasionally encouraged, or at least seemed to condone, violence by his supporters against protesters. In February he promised to pay the legal fees of supporters if they would “knock the crap out” of a demonstrator; claimed he would like to punch a protester in the face; and added he loved “the old days” when protesters would “be carried out on a stretcher”. Last week he said he may make good on his promise to pay fees for one of his supporters, a man facing criminal charges for sucker-punching a protester in March.
Ejections of protesters have become routine at Trump events, and in recent weeks the candidate has began many rallies with a taped warning: “If a protester starts demonstrating in the area around you, please do not touch or harm the protester.”
John Weaver, the top strategist to rival John Kasich, used Twitter to condemn Lewandowski’s behavior. “Campaigns reflect candidate values. Trump’s does. So does [the Kasich] campaign. Trump bully & coward. So is Mgr,” he wrote.
Trump is campaigning in Arizona ahead of the state’s winner-take-all primary on Tuesday, and has a double-digit lead in recent polls of the state.
Here is Donald Trump’s campaign manager in the Tucson crowd grabbing the collar of a protester. pic.twitter.com/JZ9RntWlHY
— Jacqueline Alemany (@JaxAlemany) March 19, 2016
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