President Trump praised Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, who defeated Democrat Rob Quist in a special election for Montana’s lone seat in the House during the spring of 2017, for an infamous incident where he was filmed body slamming a Guardian reporter during a campaign event. Gianforte eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and was ordered to do community service and participate in anger management classes.
During a campaign rally in Missoula, Montana Thursday night, Trump lauded Gianforte’s assault, saying anybody who could do a “body slam” was “my guy.”
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy,” Trump said to applause. “I shouldn’t say that — (but) there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Trump also claimed that he expected that the assault would only improve Gianforte’s chances during the election and praised him as a “tough cookie” and “great guy.”
“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 said he initially thought Gianforte’s act of violence would hurt his election chances, but “then I said ‘well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.’ And it did!” Trump said. “He’s a great guy. Tough cookie.”
After Trump’s remarks, Gianforte took the stage to cheers. “Mr. President, thank you for giving us hope again,” he said.
Following Trump’s remarks, the Guardian released a statement criticizing Trump’s comments, arguing that they were made more inappropriate by the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who is believed to have been murdered by the Saudi government.
“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,” Guardian US editor John Mulholland said in a statement, in which he brought up the apparent slaying of a Washington Post writer at the Saudi Arabian consulate building in Turkey.
“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.”
Per the Guardian, Gianforte’s Democratic opponent in November, Kathleen Williams, released a new advertisement responding to Trump’s comments.
In an statement, the campaign said “Gianforte’s assault and lies are not who we are as Montanans.”