In a Boost for Trump, Campaign Manager Won’t be Prosecuted for Battery
Florida prosecutors announced they wouldn’t pursue charges against Corey Lewandowski, but his future with Trump’s campaign is unclear.
This story has been updated.
A Florida prosecutor said he won’t pursue battery charges against Donald Trump’s campaign manager, giving the Republican front-runner a needed public relations boost before Tuesday’s key New York primary.
The evidence “is not strong enough to meet the legal burden of a reasonable likelihood of a conviction,” State Attorney Dave Aronberg said during a Thursday news conference in Palm Beach County, Florida. He said “the facts support the allegation” that the campaign aide, Corey Lewandowski, grabbed a reporter’s arm hard enough to cause bruising but that he still “has a reasonable hypothesis of innocence.”
Former Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields had accused Lewandowski of grabbing her during a March 8 run-in at a Trump event in Florida. Trump and Lewandowski both denied any wrongdoing even after video emerged that bolstered Fields’ account.
Lewandowski was charged last month in Florida with one count of misdemeanor battery. He, Trump, and other campaign aides implied that Fields was lying and suggested they themselves may be considering charges against her for touching the candidate.
Aronberg, a registered Democrat, said the entire dust-up might have been avoided with a simple apology, and Fields said on Twitter that Florida authorities sought a deal in which Lewandowski would publicly apologize to her rather than be prosecuted. She said she agreed to the offer but did not know if Lewandowski had.
“We always appreciate when people are willing to take responsibility for their actions,” Aronberg said.
“Had an apology had been given at the beginning of this we could have avoided this whole thing as a criminal justice matter,” he said.
Prosecutors described a situation at the end of a campaign event where Secret Service and staffers created a “protective bubble” around Trump as he walked out of a ballroom. They said evidence showed Fields touched Trump, prompting Lewandowski to grab her. A nearby Secret Service agent appeared unconcerned by Fields’ actions.
“We’re not charging [Lewandowski] because he was reacting to what he perceived as a potential threat to someone that he was protecting,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis said.
The Trump campaign’s statement responding to the decision made no mention of apologies.
“Corey Lewandowski is gratified by the decision to drop the misdemeanor charge and appreciates the thoughtful consideration and professionalism by the Palm Beach state attorney and his staff, who carefully reviewed this matter, as well as Mr. Trump’s loyalty and the support of his colleagues and family during this time,” the statement said. “The matter is now concluded.”
The decision couldn’t have come at a better time for Trump, who has been watching angrily as his main challenger, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, continues to rack up enough delegates to potentially prevent the business mogul from securing the Republican nomination before the party’s convention in Cleveland. Many observers believe Cruz could wrest the nomination away from Trump in a contested convention that allows GOP delegates to vote for the candidate of their choice if neither secures the required 1,237 during an initial round of voting.
Trump, increasingly worried about his chances at a so-called brokered convention, has ramped up his criticism of the Republican Party’s leadership, accusing the primary process of being “rigged.” He has also restructured his campaign staff. On Wednesday, the campaign announced it was bringing in Rick Wiley, formerly Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign manager, as national political director to help manage a potential delegate-by-delegate pressure movement. The shake-up could significantly reduce Lewandowski’s power inside Trump’s camp.
The prosecutor’s decision in Florida is likely to give some relief to Trump’s campaign just days before the New York primary, given its negative image among female voters. But much of the damage has already been done — in a recent WSJ/NBC poll, 70 percent of female voters said they viewed Trump unfavorably, and 47 percent of Republican female primary voters said they couldn’t see themselves supporting him for president. Both Cruz and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who calls New York her adopted state and has increasingly targeted Trump as her likely general election opponent, have been hammering the glaring vulnerability.
Thursday’s decision is unlikely to be the end of the controversy: Fields is weighing a defamation suit against Lewandowski and Trump.
Photo credit: JOE RAEDLE/Staff