After the famous Trump Steaks news conference in Jupiter, Fla., earlier this month, Trump was walking out, escorted by Secret Service and Lewandowski. Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields approached Trump to ask a question, phone out to record his reply and with notebook at the ready. As she began talking to Trump, Lewandowski reached in, grabbed her arm, and pulled her out of the way. The Washington Post's Ben Terris was behind the two of them and saw what happened. "You okay?" he asked immediately afterward, according to a recording.
She swore. "That was insane. You should have felt how hard he grabbed me," she said. "That's insane. I’ve never had anyone do that to me from a campaign."
"He really just almost threw you on the ground," Terris replied.
What happened next is simple. Lewandowski and the campaign denied it happened in any way, shape or form. On Twitter, he insisted that Fields was delusional and that he hadn't touched her. Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said she didn't see anything. Trump said the incident "was, in my opinion, made up. Everybody said nothing happened. Perhaps she made the story up. I think that's what happened."
Twitter detectives (a group of detectives not yet ready for the professionalism at Reddit) picked apart the videos that started to trickle out. Even Fields's own outlet, Breitbart (she has since left), seized on a video that appeared to show Lewandowski some distance from her. (Breitbart's coverage of Trump has been noticeably non-critical.) They raised questions about the bruises on Fields's arm. They dug into snippets of iPhone video with the tenacity of a Warren Commission expert poring over the Zapruder film.
If she were really grabbed, people said, why didn't she file a police report? So, she filed a police report. The police investigated. Trump National, the venue for the event, turned over security footage. It showed that Lewandowski lied.
After Lewandowski was charged with battery, Donald Trump jumped on Twitter. And the story, feeding off of and feeding his Twitter fans, changed. The standard was no longer that nothing happened. Now it was that Fields was, somehow, a threat.
Step one was to downplay what Lewandowski did.
(The charge wasn't assault, of course, and it's very likely that Lewandowski won't face significant criminal penalties, if this isn't simply dismissed. But that's not really the point.)
Step two was to imply that it was Fields who was lying.
Notice that the statement from Fields isn't contradicted by the video, which, composed of staccato stills, doesn't really show how hard Lewandowski yanked her arm. Her statement, though, is consistent with what she and Terris said immediately afterward. Did Lewandowski "try to forcefully throw [her] to the ground"? No, probably not -- but the factual aspects of the story have been consistent.
Then we hit step three, which is where the train goes off the rails and soars away into the sky.
Now, not only is Fields a liar, but Trump found her threatening. You know who didn't find her threatening? The Secret Service agent standing literally right behind her. (And we know they'll intervene.) What's in her hand? A pen, so she can write down what's being said.
But notice what we're debating now! We're not talking about how the campaign lied about and denied what happened. We're debating what Fields did, which is irrelevant to both the ethical and criminal accusations against the campaign.
Is it working? Well, you be the judge.
Trump's campaign has been built on giving his core group of fervent supporters enough reasonable doubt about his critics to dismiss them out of hand. Here, Trump's building a case worthy of Johnnie Cochran to point in every direction besides Lewandowski's.
The simple rebuttal, of course, is to ask why Trump didn't immediately ask the Secret Service to move the very scary Fields -- or why Lewandowski didn't simply say he thought she was more of a threat to Trump than did the Secret Service. That didn't happen because it's nonsense.
It's banal by now to point out that this contradiction, this shifting position and bizarre story, won't affect Trump's supporters. They embrace and feed off of his nonsensical statements. I mean, by August he'd changed his positions 20 times -- and that was back when only about a quarter of the Republican electorate supported him.
Update, 4:45 p.m.: Trump held a brief press conference from his plane. He addressed Field's bruises and again questioned what she'd said.
To be fair, Trump didn't scream when she came at him with her pen, either.