First, it didn’t happen at all. Michelle Fields, a former reporter for Breitbart News, had dreamt up her assault at the hands of Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, according to the story coming from Team Trump.
Lewandowski called Fields “delusional” and insinuated that she was a serial liar. He’d never even met her, he said.
But by Tuesday night, after Lewandowski had been arrested, charged with “simple battery” earlier in the day, and after multiple videos had been released confirming Fields’s account of events as well as the account of another reporter who served as a witness, Trump was selling a wildly different story.
During a CNN town hall, the Republican frontrunner claimed that Fields had “grabbed” him in a threatening manner. She had been holding something that might be “a little bomb” or weapon of some kind, according to Trump.
It was a pen. As in, something people with normal-sized hands use to write.
Pens, Trump said, “can be very dangerous.”
“She was grabbing me,” Trump said, “and just so you understand, she was off base because she went through the Secret Service. She had a pen in her hand, which Secret Service is not liking because they don’t know what it is, whether it’s a little bomb.”
He tried to allege that Fields had changed her story since that fateful night in Jupiter, Florida. He removed a large piece of white paper from his suit jacket pocket. On it was gigantic black type. He said it contained Fields’s original statement, and he handed it to Anderson Cooper, CNN’s host, to read it.
“When she found out that there was a security camera, and that they had her on tape, all of a sudden that story changed,” Trump said. “You’re a professional announcer. Why don’t you read it? The bottom part.”
It did not, unfortunately for Trump, contain anything that would contradict Fields’s account of the battery, which has been consistent from Day 1.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, at a Wisconsin rally, Trump had suggested that Lewandowski had actually been trying to help Fields when he yanked her so hard he put bruises on her arms. Fields had been falling, according to Trump, and Lewandowski was just being gentlemanly.
The problem for Trump, of course, is that the incident was captured clearly on video—both from various news cameras as well as from his own security cameras (the event occurred at a Trump property).
On CNN, he said, “I looked at the tape. I looked—it was my tape... I have great security and great security cameras. I have the tape, and frankly, if you look at that, people have looked at it—in fact—” he trailed off, claiming that his supporters are “shaking their heads” and saying “give me a break” over the debacle.
But the footage was enough to convince the Jupiter Police Department that Lewandowski should be charged with the misdemeanor. Lewandowski turned himself into the police just after 8 a.m.
According to the Trump campaign, he will fight the charges. “Mr. Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge,” the 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.”
Lawyers representing Lewandowski sent the same exact statement to the press, suggesting coordination between the campaign and the staffer’s counsel. Asked by The Daily Beast about the synchronized response, Lewandowski’s lawyers declined to comment further.
According to Det. Marc Bujnowski, surveillance video from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort “parallels what Fields had told me, in that Trump was walking towards the exit of the ballroom, taking questions and signing autographs,” he wrote in an affidavit. “Fields is seen on video, holding her phone up to Trump, appearing to ask him a question… Lewandowski then grabbed Fields left arm with his right hand, causing her to turn and step back. This motion cleared a path for Lewandowski to walk past Fields, allowing him to ‘catch up’ and get closer to Trump, who was walking during this entire incident.”
Police released the video to the public.
Lewandowski originally denied the entire incident in a tweet.
Fields shot back on Twitter with a photo of her bruised left arm.
Trump himself made a point to bring Lewandowski on stage during a primary victory speech and congratulate his campaign manager for doing a “great job.” The Republican frontrunner “had no idea about the full facts about the incident,” a Trump campaign insider told The Daily Beast. “Corey didn’t show him the pictures. Corey was trying to hide it from him.
“I do believe that Donald has a blind spot for Corey,” the insider added. “[Campaign spokeswoman Hope] Hicks is complicit in this as well—she does whatever [Lewandowski] wants.”
To wit, Trump tweeted a defense of his campaign manager following the arrest and release of footage from Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday. The candidate falsely said Lewandowski was charged with assault when he was in fact charged with battery. He also suggested his own surveillance tapes don’t show what police say it does.
He questioned Fields’s story once again:
And the reporter hit back hard:
Trump later fired back with a new line of argument: Fields “grabbed” him and was “shouting” questions at him. The accusatory tweet was accompanied by a screengrab purportedly showing the candidate holding his arm away from the reporter. “Can I press charges?” Trump asked. The candidate also tweeted a zoomed-in photograph of Fields’s hand nearing his arm, holding what appears to be a pen. “Why is this reporter touching me as I leave news conference?” he asked. “What is in her hand?”
Appearing Tuesday on CNN, another Trump spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, justified Lewandowski’s actions by noting that she gets “smacked around by television networks” while at campaign events. Pierson also once again attacked Fields’s character, saying the reporter “didn’t even go to the authorities for a number of days until the attention started to run out.” She also told CNN that even if convicted, Lewandowski will remain with the campaign.
Fields’s former employer, Breitbart, offered only a mild-mannered defense of her following the initial incident, avoiding any rebuke of the Trump aide’s behavior in its statement.
Several days later, the site’s editor-at-large, Joel Pollak, published an article doubting Fields’s and her colleague Ben Terris’s account (Pollak admitted he was wrong on Tuesday). Leaked internal chats showed Pollak ordering staffers to cease publicly defending Fields, despite protests from several writers. Fields eventually resigned from Breitbart, leading to an exodus of her fellow colleagues who felt the publication had become a proxy for the GOP frontrunner.
—with additional reporting by Olivia Messer