FLORIDA –– American Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery in Florida Tuesday, the latest chapter in a raucous White House race marked by threats, insults and physical confrontations.
Police in Jupiter, Florida, charged Lewandowski, 42, with intentionally grabbing and bruising the arm of Michelle Fields, then a reporter for the conservative news outlet Breitbart, when she tried to question Trump at a campaign event on March 8.
“Mr Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge,” Trump’s campaign said in a statement. “He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court. He is completely confident that he will be exonerated.”
Police released a video of the incident showing Fields walking alongside Trump and trying to question him. Lewandowski is seen grabbing her arm and pulling her backward. Previous videos of the incident had been obscured by people in the crowd.
At the time, Lewandowski called Fields “delusional” and said he never touched her.
Campaign rallies for Trump, the billionaire businessman who leads the race to become the Republican candidate in the November 8 presidential election, have been marked by rowdiness and occasional clashes between protesters and supporters or security personnel.
His pugnacious campaign style, which includes personal insults directed at rivals and scathing criticism of protesters, has been criticized for encouraging physical altercations at his rallies.
The real estate mogul leads remaining rivals Ted Cruz, an American senator from Texas, and Ohio Governor John Kasich in polls and in the number of delegates to the nominating convention, despite a concerted effort by the Republican establishment to stop him out of fear he will lead the party to defeat in November.
Cruz picked up an endorsement today from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ahead of the state’s primary next week. Walker, who dropped out of the presidential race last year, said he backed Cruz because he was a principled constitutional conservative.
“To me, I’m all in,” Walker said in a radio interview on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee, adding he was not endorsing Cruz in an attempt to stop Trump.
“I just fundamentally believe if you look at the facts, if you look at the numbers, that Ted Cruz is in the best position by far to both win the nomination of the Republican Party and to then go on and defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall this year,” Walker said, referring to the Democratic front-runner.
Walker joins a number of other more mainstream Republicans who have backed Cruz as the best alternative to Trump, who has racked up a strong delegate lead but alienated many party leaders with his harsh views on immigration, Muslims and women.
Cruz told reporters while campaigning in Wisconsin that the charges reflected the “abusive” culture of the Trump campaign.
“When you have a campaign that is built on personal insults, attacks and now physical violence, that has no place in our campaign, it has no place in our democracy,” Cruz said.
Kasich’s senior adviser, John Weaver, said on Twitter that “campaigns reflect the character of the candidate and if this person was on our campaign he would have been fired long ago”.
Trump defended Lewandowski after he was charged.
“Look at tapes –– nothing there!” Trump said on Twitter, calling Lewandowski “a very decent man”.
Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told CNN that Lewandowski would “absolutely” stay on the job.
Lewandowski was charged with simple battery, defined under Florida law as intentionally touching or striking a person against their will. For a first offense, it is a misdemeanor in the first degree, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a fine of $1,000.
A court date was set for May 4, according to the police report. Jupiter police said Lewandowski turned himself in to police, and he was issued a notice requiring him to appear in court and then released. He was not booked into the jail.
Lewandowski’s lawyer, Scott Richardson of West Palm Beach, Florida, declined to comment on whether his client would step down as campaign manager. Lewandowski will also be represented by Kendall Coffey, a Miami lawyer, the campaign said.
Fields resigned from Breitbart less than a week after the incident, citing what she said was the online news outlet’s refusal to stand behind her amid the allegations.