Donald Trump Cheering Republican Who Assaulted Reporter Amounts to 'Celebrating of a Crime,' Says WHCA

Following President Donald Trump’s Thursday night praise of a Montana congressman’s past assault on a reporter, the White House Correspondents’ Association responded on Friday by saying all “Americans should recoil” from the president’s “cheerleading” of an attack on the independent press.

“All Americans should recoil from the president’s praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job,” said WHCA president Olivier Knox in a statement. “This amounts to the celebrating of a crime by someone sworn to uphold our laws and an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has solemnly pledged to defend it.”

Knox added that Americans should “never shrug at the president cheerleading for a violent act targeting a free and independent news media.”

Speaking at a campaign rally Thursday night for GOP Congressman Greg Gianforte, the president praised the lawmaker for physically assaulting The Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs last year.

“Greg [Gianforte is smart]. And, by the way, never wrestle him,” Trump said. “Any guy that can do a body-slam, he’s my kind of guy.” He then acted as though he were throwing an imaginary person to the ground, receiving laughs and cheers from rally attendees.

As of Friday, the White House had yet to comment about the president’s remarks. The White House did not immediately respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.

Jacobs was slammed to the ground in May 2017 by Gianforte after the reporter asked the then-candidate a question about health care. The incident occurred at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters following a media event and was captured on an audio recording.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte could be heard saying after he picked Jacobs up and slammed him to the ground, breaking the reporter’s glasses in the process. Jacobs was taken to the hospital and treated for an elbow injury.

Gianforte later pleaded guilty for a misdemeanor assault charge and was originally sentenced to four days in jail. The judge later dropped the jail time, sentencing him to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and a $300 fine along with an $85 court fee.

Gianforte later apologized to Jacobs, which Jacobs accepted, and pledged a $50,000 donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

donald trump, reporter, assault, republican, President Donald Trump speaks during a 'Make America Great Again' rally at the Eastern Kentucky University, in Richmond, Kentucky, on October 13. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Jacobs did not publicly comment about Trump’s Thursday night remarks, but The Guardian U.S. editor John Mulholland said in a statement: “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.”

The president’s praise of an assault on a journalist comes as Trump and his administration are still deciding how to handle the apparent death of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, who’s believed to have been tortured and murdered in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey by members of the Saudi government.

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