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Opinion Washington Post reporter rebuts Breitbart story about possible mistaken identity in Michelle Fields incident

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, center, looks on as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, in Dubuque, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Here’s the latest wrinkle in the campaign-trail assault of Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields: Breitbart’s Joel B. Pollak has just published an account questioning whether Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was the person who grabbed her arm following a Tuesday night press conference in Jupiter, Fla. In a first-person account of the incident, Fields wrote that as she attempted to ask Trump a question about affirmative action, “Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.” Relying on an eyewitness account from Washington Post reporter Ben Terris, Fields pointed the finger at Lewandowski.

Pollak reviewed the press conference’s aftermath, reaching this conclusion: “New video of Donald Trump’s press conference Tuesday evening shows that the Washington Post’s account of an altercation involving Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields could not possibly have happened as Ben Terris reported.” What follows is a painstaking attempt to retrace the steps of Trump, Fields, Terris and Lewandowski. Pollak’s analysis focuses on a security official who falls in behind Trump after the event, right alongside Lewandowski. These two men both have short-cropped hair, notes Pollak, citing a resemblance between the two.

Videos and photographs examined by Pollak don’t show the incident actually happening, though he asserts that unquestionably it did. Trump himself said last night: “Nothing happened. This was, in my opinion, made up.” But Pollak concludes, based on the flow of foot traffic and the evidence available: “Given the similarity in appearance between Lewandowski and the security official, and given the fact that Lewandowski was walking on the other side of Trump from where Fields was at the time, the possibility of mistaken identity cannot be ruled out. Indeed, given Lewandowski’s adamant denials (coupled with statements inappropriately impugning Fields’s character), it is the likeliest explanation.”

Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, told the Erik Wemple Blog: “As we said from the beginning, Corey Lewandowski was not involved. We are vindicated and we look forward to receiving an apology from your publication and your reporter, Ben Terris.” That statement appears to represent an admission from the campaign that the assault did indeed occur, contrary to Trump’s statements from last night. We asked Hicks if a change in position had occurred. “Mr. Trump was asked about an incident involving Corey. There was no incident involving Corey,” responded Hicks.

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For his part, Terris isn’t budging. “I saw what I saw,” said Terris in a brief chat with this blog. During the whole incident, says Terris, he had his “eyes trained on Corey Lewandowski,” because Terris was there to profile the campaign team with a focus on Lewandowski. Terris took strong issue with Pollak’s assertion that mistaken identity is the “likeliest explanation” based in part on Lewandowski’s denials. “Because he denied it?” asked Terris. “This is Breitbart.” The Daily Beast, citing “sources,” reported that Lewandowski had acknowledged to Breitbart News’s Matthew Boyle having grabbed Fields. “Lewandowski’s explanation to Boyle, said these sources, was that he and Fields had never met before and that he didn’t recognize her as a Breitbart reporter, instead mistaking her for an adversarial member of the mainstream media.” UPDATE: The Trump campaign passes along this email, in which Boyle tells Lewandowski the Daily Beast’s report is “false.”

Daily Beast Editor in Chief John Avlon tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “We stand by our reporters and our reporting, unlike Breitbart.”

Fields has reportedly filed a police report against Lewandowski.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's key political inner circle consists of campaign veterans and some more inexperienced characters. (Video: Deirdra O'Regan/The Washington Post)