U.S. President Donald Trump praised Representatives Greg Gianforte for his assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.
“Any guy who can do a body-slam… he’s my guy,” Mr. Trump said to a crowd of about 8,000 people at a campaign rally in Missoula, Montana, on Thursday evening, and proceeded to do a body-slam (a wrestling manoeuvre) gesture in the air, as he invited Mr. Gianforte to join him at the lectern.
Mr. Trump was referring to an incident from May 2017, when Mr Gianforte’s attacked Mr. Jacobs after the reporter had asked him a question on healthcare on the eve of a special election for the Congressional seat, which Mr. Gainforte won. Mr Gianforte had pleaded guilty to the assault and was given a six-month deferred jail sentence, ordered to pay a fine of $385 and sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counselling.
He had also agreed to pay $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit, as part of settling civil claims with Mr. Jacobs.
Mr. Gianforte will run against Democratic rival Kathleen Williams next month again as every seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs.
“And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand. Never,” Mr. Trump added to cheers and laughter from the Missoula crowd.
Mr. Trump has had a difficult relationship with the U.S. media, sections of which he has referred to as ‘fake news’, a name he used again at the Missoula rally.
At the rally in Montana, however, Mr. Trump said of his own comments regarding Mr. Gianforte’s actions: “I shouldn’t say that,” but then went on to say, “You know, that’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
The Guardian U.S. has issued a statement on Mr Trump’s comments. “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,” John Mulholland, Guardian U.S. editor, said.