FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—The 2016 presidential race may have descended on Wisconsin — but most of the campaign buzz surrounds an incident that happened nearly a month ago in Florida.
Police there charged Donald Trump’s campaign manager with simple battery Tuesday as a videotaped altercation with a reporter transformed what was another messy campaign sideshow into a criminal court summons. Trump decried the charges.
Jupiter, Florida, police determined that probable cause existed to file a criminal complaint against the Republican front-runner’s most trusted political adviser, Corey Lewandowski, for an altercation that took place after a campaign appearance earlier in the month. Police on Tuesday morning issued Lewandowski a notice to appear before a judge on May 4 for the misdemeanor charge, which carries up to a year in jail.
The unexpected development injects a court battle into an already contentious Republican primary season just a week before a high-stakes election in Wisconsin. It came on a day that all five presidential contenders campaigned in the state, overshadowing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s endorsement of Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders’ push to narrow Hillary Clinton’s delegate lead.
Speaking to reporters on his airplane in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump vowed to stand by his campaign manager and lashed out at the young female reporter who conveyed the incident to police.
“How do you know those bruises weren’t there before?” the New York businessman charged.
“I’m not going to let a person’s life be destroyed,” Trump said of Lewandowski. “No jury, in my opinion, would convict a man and destroy a man’s life over what you witnessed.” He repeated that stance Tuesday night during an interview on a CNN-sponsored town hall event in Milwaukee.
Police charged Lewandowski after reviewing a surveillance video of the incident, obtained from security at the Trump-owned property. Police determined the video shows Lewandowski grabbing Michelle Fields, who worked for Breitbart News at the time, as she tried to ask Trump a question after a March 8 appearance.
It’s unclear what impact, if any, the news will have on Trump’s march toward his party’s presidential nomination. Critics cast it as another example of why the brash billionaire would struggle to attract women in a prospective race against Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
“What Donald Trump has been doing over these last months is inciting violent behavior, aggressive behavior that I think is very dangerous and has resulted in attacks on people at his events including this charge that has now been brought against his campaign manager,” Clinton said in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “I think ultimately the responsibility is Mr. Trump’s.”
The New York businessman’s Republican rivals also seized on the news.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the incident is “the consequence of the culture of the Trump campaign — the abusive culture when you have a campaign that is built on personal insults, on attacks and now physical violence.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he “probably would suspend somebody” depending on the evidence available.