Prosecutor Won’t Pursue Trump Campaign Manager’s Battery Chargeby
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign manager won't be prosecuted after he grabbed a reporter last month as she questioned the billionaire at a Florida press conference, Palm Beach County State Attorney David Aronberg said Thursday.
Corey Lewandowski was charged with simple battery by police in Jupiter, Florida, after a video showed him grabbing the arm of Michelle Fields, who has since parted ways with Breitbart News, at Trump National Golf Club on March 8. Fields said her arm was bruised in the episode.
Police “acted well within their authority to investigate and make an independent charging decision,” Aronberg said at a news conference. “We agree that probable cause exists for the Jupiter Police Department to have charged Mr. Lewandowski in this case. As prosecutors, however, our standards for filing criminal charges is higher than mere probable cause. We have the burden of proving each case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Investigators spoke to Trump, whose account comported with facts in the case, and it didn’t alter his decision, the prosecutor said.
An elected Democrat who reportedly backs Hillary Clinton for president, Aronberg said he happened to share a dorm bathroom with Senator Ted Cruz back at Harvard Law School and he knew Senator Marco Rubio in the Florida statehouse. “My political affiliations are public but they don’t come into this office,” Aronberg said.
Trump has stood by Lewandowski. In the days after Fields alleged the manhandling, Lewandowski called her “totally delusional,” and Trump suggested the journalist was lying about being grabbed.
After Lewandowski was charged, Trump said he was actually grabbed by Fields, said he wouldn’t fire his aide, and questioned whether Fields’ bruises were really from the episode and why she didn’t scream. He also suggested she changed her story, a claim that Fields denied and that the fact-checking website PolitiFact rated false.
Fields may still pursue a defamation complaint against the campaign manager, Politico reported Wednesday, citing an unidentified source.
Fields and Lewandowski’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Prosecutor's office told me they would inform me of decision tomorrow,” Fields tweeted Wednesday after reports that Lewandowski wouldn’t be prosecuted. “If reports true, guess they decided to leak to reporters first. Ugly.” She also tweeted, “For those asking, office of prosecutor asked 2 weeks ago if I'd be ok with an apology from Corey. I said ya but haven't heard back about it.”
Aronberg said Lewandowski’s attorneys earlier this week showed him a draft of an apology and it’s up to them to send it.
“There was no deal where we were going to drop charges in exchange for an apology,” Aronberg said. “In a case like this we do encourage an apology. We think it's a good idea, and I think that had an apology been given at the beginning of all this we could have avoided the whole criminal justice process for this matter.”
Fields was clearly disappointed by the decision not to prosecute, Aronberg said.
In a statement, the Trump campaign said Lewandowski “is gratified by the decision to drop the misdemeanor charge and appreciates the thoughtful consideration and professionalism by the Palm Beach State Attorney and his staff who carefully reviewed this matter, as well as Mr. Trump’s loyalty and the support of his colleagues and family during this time. The matter is now concluded.”
Lewandowski, a longtime Tea Party operative, helped Trump win the New Hampshire primary and go on to amass a delegate lead over Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Trump is now campaigning to win a delegate majority before the Republican National Convention in July and secure the nomination outright.
Lewandowski has a hard-edged reputation, and Trump critics say the campaign has done little to discourage violence at his rallies, such as last month when a 78-year-old white supporter sucker-punched a 26-year-old black man in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The puncher was charged with assault, battery, and disorderly conduct. The county sheriff’s office decided against charging Trump with inciting a riot in connection with that event.
The campaign manager’s charge was the same week that Trump feuded with Cruz over the treatment of their wives in the race, and that Trump said women should be punished for having abortions if the procedure is outlawed. He later reversed the abortion position.
There are some signs that Trump’s political trouble with women has begun to take a toll. He lost the group by 13 points in the Wisconsin Republican primary on April 5, according to exit polls, and a Bloomberg Politics survey this month of married women likely to vote in the general election found him with a 70 percent unfavorable rating nationwide.
—With assistance from Ben Brody.