Culture

Did Donald Trump’s Campaign Manager Assault Breitbart Reporter Michelle Fields? An Investigation

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Getty/Michelle Fields on Twitter

These days, writers and journalists must specify what particular aspect of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump‘s campaign they want to criticize. That’s because, with less than 10 months to go before the general election, Trump is still here, and there’s a damn good chance he’ll be the GOP nominee. Plus, ever since that magical escalator ride down into the pits of Trump Tower hell, news about the New York real estate mogul has been rife with one micro-scandal after another. It has become the norm, unfortunately, though maybe the latest accusation thrown Trump’s way will at least have some kind of effect on his momentum.

That’s because the alleged incident between Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, takes the infamous choke-slamming of a photographer by a U.S. Secret Service agent to new levels. Bruised, battered and possibly sexist levels.

It all began late Tuesday night, when Fields’ boyfriend Jamie Weinstein, a senior editor with the Daily Caller, tweeted about what happened between Fields and Lewandowski at a press conference in Jupiter, Fla. earlier that night. According to the tweet, Lewandowski had “tried to pull” the Breitbart reporter “to [the] ground” after she attempted to ask Trump a question.

Callum Borchers, a writer for the Washington Post‘s “The Fix” politics blog, published one of the first articles about the encounter early Wednesday morning. In addition to citing the observations of fellow Post reporter Ben Terris, who would later post his own written account of the event and its aftermath, Borchers cited the official statement released by Breitbart chief executive Larry Solov shortly after the incident occurred:

It’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and made physical contact with our reporter. What Michelle has told us directly is that someone “grabbed her arm” and while she did not see who it was, Ben Terris of The Washington Post told her that it was Corey Lewandowski. If that’s the case, Corey owes Michelle an immediate apology.

Terris’ article was originally supposed to concern a series of interviews to be conducted with Lewandowski, national politics director Michael Glassner, social media strategist Daniel Scavino, and communications director Hope Hicks. However, since he’d witnessed Lewandowski’s reported rough treatment of Fields firsthand, the Trump campaign grew weary of the appointments they’d made with Terris and delayed several of the interviews. Lewandowski ultimately canceled, telling Terris by text message that he was going to “pass” because of a “change of heart.”

The cancelation probably had something to do with what the reporter had seen:

Michelle Fields, a young reporter for Trump-friendly Breitbart News, pressed forward to ask the GOP front-runner a question. I watched as a man with short-cropped hair and a suit grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way. He was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 41-year-old campaign manager.

Fields stumbled. Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm.

“I’m just a little spooked,” she said, a tear streaming down her face. “No one has grabbed me like that before.”

She took my arm and squeezed it hard. “I don’t even want to do it as hard as he did,” she said, “because it would hurt.”

Fields never saw Lewandowski grab her arm and yank her away from Trump. As she explained in her own account at Breitbart, Fields and the other reporters were asking Trump questions at the time, and he was in a “jovial mood.” She states that she wasn’t “called upon to ask a question during the televised press conference,” but when Trump mingled with the reporters for a few moments after, he “approached” her to take her question. Fields asked him about affirmative action, and while he “acknowledged the question,” he never got a chance to answer it:

Before he could answer I was jolted backwards. Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.

The Washington Post‘s Ben Terris immediately remarked that it was Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who aggressively tried to pull me to the ground. I quickly turned around and saw Lewandowski and Trump exiting the building together. No apology. No explanation for why he did this.

At this point, the accusations against Lewandowski amount to Fields’ memory of what happened to her and Terris’ account of what he saw. Unlike the Time magazine photographer who was slammed to the ground last week, there were no photos or videos of the occurrence taken by journalists or other personnel, simply the word of two experienced journalists.

Which is probably why the Trump campaign found it all too easy to write and distribute a press release denying Fields’ claims and defending Lewandowski against all criticism. Hicks, who composed the lengthy statement, characterized the allegations as “entirely false” — mainly because she and “dozens of individuals present” “did not witness any encounter.” She also noted that “not a single camera or reporter of more than 100 in attendance captured the alleged incident.”

Due to the lack of photographic and video evidence, Lewandowski’s apparent roughhousing of Fields was flatly denied by the Trump camp. This turned the whole affair into a literal example of he said, she said that seemed like it would simply fade into the ether — just like countless other instances of violence and victimization that reporters and protesters have faced at previous rallies. Then again, there was the physical evidence of bruising on Fields’ arm, which included purplish grip marks like a person’s fingers or fingertips.

That’s when things started to get really testy. For as the Washington Post, Breitbart and several other news agencies covering the 2016 election put more and more pressure on the Trump campaign, the Republican front-runner’s people fought back even harder. It seemed their official statement outright denying the accusations had gone unheeded, so they decided to attack Fields’ credibility as a reporter instead.

Hicks had already done this when she concluded the campaign’s statement with remarks about whether or not the Breitbart reporter could be trusted. “On multiple occasions she has become part of the news story as opposed to reporting it,” the statement concluded. “Recall she also claimed to have been beaten by a New York City Police officer with a baton.” She mentioned the 2011 incident because it became a major media event during the #OccupyWallStreet protests at the time. Both Fields and videographer Direna Cousins, who were Daily Caller employees at the time, were struck with batons by police officers in riot gear. The NYPD discounted their claims at first, but videos and photos quickly surfaced that supported their side of the story.

While the renewed charges of exaggeration were flung at Fields, Weinstein found a famous photo of the incident and tweeted it for all the naysayers to see.

Character evidence to the contrary, the Trump campaign and its supporters continued their assault against Fields’ story. One of the loudest and most repetitive voices in this particular crowd was none other than Lewandowski, who continuously tweeted attacks against his accuser and links to questionable articles that were critical of her account.

Even one of Breitbart’s own caused a stir when he publicly criticized both Fields and Borchers’ initial Washington Post article about the fracas with Lewandowski. Reporter Patrick Howley tweeted several jabs at both the article and his colleague, saying that they lacked “video” or anything “documenting the alleged incident or the claim put forth by Ben Terris.” These concerns quickly devolved into personal denial, as Howley asserted that he’d never been grabbed violently at a Trump event.

Howley subsequently deleted the tweets, but other members of the media had already screenshot and spread them all over Twitter. Shortly thereafter, he was suspended by the conservative news site. They issued an official statement to Mediaite and several other outlets:

“Patrick Howley was speaking for himself and not for Breitbart News,” the conservative website said in a statement to Mediaite. “Senior Management at Breitbart News believes his comments were inappropriate and has decided to suspend him indefinitely effective immediately.”

“Breitbart continues to stand 100% with Michelle Fields and believes that Corey Lewandowski must accept responsibility for his actions and apologize,” they conclude.

Of all the things that have transpired so far, Breitbart’s continued defense of Fields against the Trump camp’s aggressive smear campaign is perhaps the most telling aspect of the story. That’s because the Andrew Breitbart-founded anti-mainstream media news organization has been one of the Republican presidential candidate’s most outspoken supporters throughout the 2016 election. So if they’re still batting for one of their own against one of Trump’s people, then this affair won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Especially since it was revealed Thursday night that an audio recording of the encounter between Lewandowski and Fields exists. The recording itself, which was anonymously sent to Politico’s Hadas Gold, has not been posted online and probably never will be. That’s because Gold agreed not to post it per the submitter’s request, though the reporter was granted permission to transcribe the two and a half minute audio clip and publish the results.

The audio itself is “not definitive,” but if the transcription is any indication, both Fields and Terris are telling the truth about what happened:

Fields: “Mr. Trump, you went after the late Scalia for affirmative action, do you — are you still against affirmative action?”

Voice (allegedly Corey Lewandowski): “Excuse me, thank you.”

A few moments later (noise of the room can be heard)…

Terris: “You OK?”

Fields: “Holy sh*t.”

Terris: “Yea he just threw you down.”

Fields: “I can’t believe he just did that that was so hard. Was that Corey?”

Terris: “Yeah, like, what threat were you?”

Fields: “That was insane. You should have felt how hard he grabbed me. That’s insane. I’ve never had anyone do that to me from a campaign.”

To paraphrase Hicks, Howley and everyone else who directly or indirectly discounted Fields and Terris for the lack of video evidence — a transcription of a supposed audio clip that might not even be definitive won’t be enough. Witnessed and felt accounts, along with photographic proof of sustained physical injuries, can provide the pair (and their supporters) with enough evidence to keep the accusations against Lewandowski alive. But considering the forgetful history of similar incidents involved Trump, his staff and his supporters, the outlook remains rather bleak.

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