"I'll tell you what: This man has fought — in more ways than one — for your state. He has fought for your state,” Trump said. “Greg Gianforte. He is a fighter and a winner."
It's possible the White House will try to offer an alternate explanation for Trump's comments. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for instance, has repeatedly said Trump never “promoted or encouraged violence” — despite clear, objective evidence to the contrary.
But Thursday's example was clearly in that vein. Trump enunciated the “in more ways than one” in a manner that made clear what his reference was to. Gianforte is not a military veteran, which would be about the only valid explanation for the idea that a politician “fought in more ways than one for your state.” But again, the video shows Trump was clearly pleased with his veiled reference.
In June 2017, Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs that took place 24 hours before the end of a special election campaign. He was given a 180-day suspended sentence and was required to do community service and pay a fine. He also was forced to attend anger-management classes.
Jacobs tweeted at the time that Gianforte had “body-slammed” him after Jacobs asked him repeatedly about the cost of the GOP's health-care bill. The Guardian released a tape of the incident, and Fox News reporters who were also present confirmed Jacobs's account.
"I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte says on the tape. “The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”
Gianforte, whose staff initially blamed Jacobs for the altercation, apologized as part of a settlement: “Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you. I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility."
Gianforte also agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. When Trump tweeted a video in which Trump body-slammed a CNN logo, Gianforte said he was "not sure" he would've done the same.
On Thursday, a president who has increasingly labeled “fake news” reporters as the “enemies of the American people” made his assault of a journalist into a laugh and applause line.
This post has been updated to clarify the terms of Gianforte's settlement.