'He's my guy': Donald Trump praises Gianforte for assault on Guardian reporter

President’s comments at Montana rally in praise of violence against US journalist come amid international outcry over Khashoggi

Donald Trump has praised Greg Gianforte, the Congress member from Montana, for violently attacking a Guardian reporter, saying that someone who performs a body slam is “my guy”.

Trump described in glowing terms the physical assault that occurred on 24 May 2017 when Ben Jacobs, the Guardian’s political correspondent, asked Gianforte a question about healthcare policy in the course of a special congressional election in Montana. The US president incited cheers and chants from a crowd of about 8,000 supporters on Thursday night when he said: “Greg is smart. And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand. Never.”

Trump’s comments mark the first time the president has openly and directly praised a violent act against a journalist on American soil. It comes as the White House is under intense domestic and international pressure over Trump’s refusal to condemn Saudi Arabia despite growing evidence that its leader, the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the decapitation and dismemberment of the journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

Hours before the “Make America Great Again” rally in Missoula, Trump said he believed that Khashoggi was probably dead but held back from an outright condemnation of the Saudi regime.

Giving his first detailed account of the Gianforte attack on Jacobs, Trump went on to tell the Missoula crowd that he had learned of the incident while he was in Rome in a gathering of world leaders. He expressed his immediate dismay.

“We endorsed Greg very early. But I heard that he body-slammed a reporter. This was the day of the election or just before, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is terrible! He’s going to lose the election.’”

Trump continued: “And then I said, ‘Wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.’ And it did.”

The line prompted another huge cheer from the Montana crowd.

The US president finished his account of the physical assault by saying of Gianforte: “He’s a great guy. Tough cookie.”

The campaign for Kathleen Williams, Gianforte’s Democratic opponent in the November congressional election, released a new ad in response to Trump’s comments.

In an statement, the campaign said: “Gianforte’s assault and lies are not who we are as Montanans.”

Trump’s relationship with the US and international media has become increasingly belligerent since his presidential victory in 2016. As he does at all his rallies, Trump pointed to the assembled media on Thursday night in Missoula and lambasted them as purveyors of “fake news”.

But he has never before gone so far as to laud and condone physical violence against an American reporter working in the country. And his comments fall uneasily at a time when he has begun to shift his position over the apparent murder of Khashoggi, a US resident who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Video and audio recordings have implicated a team of Saudi nationals, several of whom have close ties to the Saudi crown prince.

A crew of Fox News reporters witnessed the attack on the Guardian’s correspondent in Bozeman. According to their firsthand account, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands as the reporter was posing questions to him.

The crew wrote: “He then slammed [Jacobs] into the ground behind him. [We] watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”

Jacobs was taken by ambulance to a hospital and treated for an elbow injury.

Gianforte pleaded guilty to a charge of assault and was sentenced to four days in jail as a misdemeanor. The sentence was later changed to 40 hours of community service, a fine and a compulsory anger-management course.

In a statement, the Guardian US editor, John Mulholland, said: “The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.

“In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”


Ed Pilkington in Missoula

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Trump was 'playful' in praising assault on Guardian reporter, Ben Sasse says
Nebraska senator, author of a book which aims to ‘heal’ the political divide, says: ‘People kind of tune most of it out’

Martin Pengelly

21, Oct, 2018 @5:33 PM

Article image
Greg Gianforte sentenced to community service for assaulting Guardian reporter
Montana Republican fined $385 and spared jail after pleading guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of Gianforte’s election

Sam Levin in Bozeman, Montana and Julia Carrie Wong

12, Jun, 2017 @9:59 PM

Article image
Trump hails 'great win in Montana' for candidate who body-slammed Guardian reporter
Republican Greg Gianforte wins special election and says: ‘I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I’m sorry’

Julia Carrie Wong in Bozeman, Montana

26, May, 2017 @5:36 AM

Article image
Republican candidate charged with assault after 'body-slamming' Guardian reporter
Audio of Greg Gianforte attacking Ben Jacobs corroborated by Fox News journalists in the room, who described candidate ‘slamming him to the ground’

Julia Carrie Wong and Sam Levin

25, May, 2017 @5:07 AM

Article image
Gianforte gives $50,000 to press group as charges loom after assault of Guardian reporter
Congressman-elect issues apology to Ben Jacobs over ‘unprofessional, unacceptable, unlawful’ actions as he faces criminal charges over the incident

Julia Carrie Wong

08, Jun, 2017 @1:23 AM

Article image
Newspapers ditch Republican charged with assaulting Guardian reporter
Montana papers withdraw backing for Congress candidate Greg Gianforte, who is accused of slamming journalist into ground

Damien Gayle and Amanda Holpuch

25, May, 2017 @1:52 PM

Article image
Montana election: race had tightened even before Gianforte assault charge
In a dispatch from Ben Jacobs sent before he was ‘body-slammed’ by Greg Gianforte, the reporter finds both parties spending millions in a race with national significance

Ben Jacobs in Helena

25, May, 2017 @1:20 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on press freedom: protecting the people’s right to know | Editorial
Editorial: Donald Trump’s demonisation of the media is bad news for the public, not just journalists


25, May, 2017 @6:42 PM

Article image
Greg Gianforte to plead guilty for assaulting Guardian reporter
Congressman-elect will appear in court Monday for misdemeanor charge, and announcement came a day after he reached settlement with Ben Jacobs

Julia Carrie Wong

09, Jun, 2017 @10:09 PM

Article image
Press groups ask Congress to investigate Greg Gianforte over body-slamming reporter
Coalition of press freedom groups wrote a letter to ethics committee asking that Gianforte be disciplined for allegedly attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs

Lauren Gambino in Washington and Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

02, Jun, 2017 @10:09 PM