Donald Trump is under fire for praising a physical attack against a journalist, a situation that comes just two weeks after the alleged brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump was at a campaign rally in Montana on Thursday when he spoke about the state’s congressman physically attacking a journalist earlier this year. Republican Greg Gianforte pleaded guilty to an unprompted attack against Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, who Gianforte bodyslammed when he tried to ask Gianforte a question.
As the New York Post noted, Trump said he was pleased with the attack against the journalist. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy,” Trump said as the crowd applauded. “I shouldn’t say that — (but) there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Trump then noted that in the immediate wake of the attack, he suspected that it might actually help Gianforte with constituents in Montana. He then offered some words of praise for the state’s only congressman. “He’s a great guy,” Trump said. “Tough cookie.”
Trump defended Saudi Arabia in their apparent murder of @washingtonpost columnist Jamal Khashoggi.— Rantt Media (@RanttMedia) October 19, 2018
In Missoula, Montana, @POTUS just praised @Gianforte for body slamming reporter @Bencjacobs.
Press freedom is under assault. pic.twitter.com/h7iSLFLtdR
The praise for Gianforte drew immediate criticism for Trump, who has been accused of heightening tension against journalists by referring to the press as an “enemy of the American people.” The Guardian released a statement condemning Trump’s praise for the attack, saying that this kind of violent rhetoric invites more attacks against journalists.
New statement from the Guardian on Trump’s remarks tonight praising Gianforte’s assault —> pic.twitter.com/ZAMUpcII4B— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) October 19, 2018
Trump talks about Gianforte body-slamming reporter @Bencjacobs. Jokes he worried it was going to hurt Gianforte and then changed his mind: “I think it might help him and it did.” (*Yes this is the president joking about a congressman assaulting a reporter)— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 19, 2018
Here's how the Fox News eyewitnesses described the incident: "Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.” https://t.co/lN9eMfiBee— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) October 19, 2018
Many noted the disturbing timing of Trump’s praise for Gianforte, which comes just weeks after the presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. The Washington Post columnist was reportedly killed by a team of Saudi agents working on behalf of the Saudi government.
Trump has been hesitant to blame Saudi Arabia for the presumed murder, saying he would not want the allegations to interfere with an existing arms deal and stressing that they should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This came despite overwhelming international consensus that the Saudi government was behind Khashoggi’s murder, including audio recordings of the Saudi team torturing and killing Khashoggi in the consulate.
In the wake of the killing, Trump also tried to downplay his own financial connections to Saudi Arabia, despite previous boasts about the heavy investments from Saudi Arabia into his companies.
There was already a connection between Trump and Khashoggi before the journalist’s murder earlier this month. Though Khashoggi was long critical of the Saudi government, the Independent reported in late 2016 that he was actually banished for his criticism of then President Elect Donald Trump.