WASHINGTON // US Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested in Florida on Tuesday and charged with misdemeanour battery.
Police in Jupiter charged Mr Lewandowski, 42, with intentionally grabbing and bruising the arm of Michelle Fields, then a reporter for conservative news outlet Breitbart, when she tried to question Mr Trump at a campaign event on March 8.
“Mr Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge,” the Trump campaign said. “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.”
Campaign rallies for Mr Trump, the billionaire businessmen 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.
Mr Trump’s pugnacious campaign style, which includes personal insults directed at rivals and scathing criticism of protesters, has been criticised for encouraging physical altercations at his rallies.
The real estate mogul leads remaining rivals Ted Cruz, a US 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.
Mr Cruz picked up an endorsement on Tuesday from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker ahead of the state’s primary next week. Mr Walker, who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this year, said he backed Mr Cruz because he was a principled constitutional conservative.
The Wisconsin governor joins a number of other more mainstream Republicans who have backed Mr Cruz as the best alternative to Mr Trump, who has racked up a strong delegate lead but alienated many party leaders with his harsh views on immigration, Muslims and women.
Mr Trump defended his campaign manager, Mr Lewandowski, after he was charged on Tuesday.
“Look at tapes – nothing there!” Mr Trump said on Twitter, calling Mr Lewandowski “a very decent man”.
Police released a video of the incident showing Ms Fields walking alongside Mr Trump and trying to question him. Mr 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, Mr Lewandowski called Ms Fields “delusional” and said he never touched her.
He was charged with simple battery, defined under Florida law as intentionally touching or striking a person against their will. For a first offence, it is a misdemeanour in the first degree, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a fine of US$1,000 (Dh3,671).
A court date was set for May 4, according to the police report. Jupiter police said Mr Lewandowski had turned himself in to police. He was issued a notice requiring him to appear in court and then released. He was not booked into the jail.
Mr Trump’s rivals said Mr Lewandowski’s arrest was a reflection of the campaign he worked for.
“Unfortunately, this abusive behaviour seems to be part of the culture of the Trump campaign. Personal attacks, verbal attacks and now physical attacks have no place in politics or anywhere else in our society,” said Cruz spokeswoman Alice Stewart.
Mr 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”.
Mr Lewandowski’s lawyer, Scott Richardson, declined to comment on whether his client would step down as campaign manager. Mr Lewandowski will also be represented by Kendall Coffey, the campaign said.
Ms 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.