NEW YORK -- Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields was attempting to ask Donald Trump a question after his surreal election night press conference on Tuesday when she was suddenly “jolted backwards.”
“Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down,” Fields recalled in a first-person account Thursday. “I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.”
That someone was Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Fields said she didn’t see who grabbed her, but Washington Post reporter Ben Terris told her it was Lewandowski. Terris confirmed to HuffPost on Wednesday that he had witnessed the incident and he wrote about it on Thursday. Politico later published a transcript of an audio recording of the incident and its aftermath:
Terris: “You OK?"
Fields: “Holy sh*t."
Terris: “Yea he just threw you down."
Fields: “I can’t believe he just did that that was so hard. Was that Corey?"
Terris: “Yeah, like, what threat were you?"
Fields: "That was insane. You should have felt how hard he grabbed me. That's insane. I’ve never had anyone do that to me from a campaign."
Lewandowski didn’t respond to multiple calls seeking comment, but Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement Thursday afternoon that “the accusation, which has only been made in the media and never addressed directly with the campaign, is entirely false.” Hicks said she didn’t witness any such encounter and pointed out that none of the more than 100 journalists present captured “the alleged incident” on camera.
Fields tweeted a photo of a bruise on her arm in response.
Lewandowski later attempted to discredit Fields in a series of tweets. He linked to a 2011 article about Fields being assaulted by New York City Police Department officers at an Occupy Wall Street protest and asked, "professional reporting or attention seeking?" He then called Fields an "attention seeker" in another tweet, pointing to a 2015 article claiming she had been sexually harassed by former congressman and conservative media figure Allen West.
A wide range of journalists have criticized Lewandowski, and some have called for him to be fired.
Ben Shapiro, Breitbart’s editor-at-large and one of the site's most prominent writers, said in an email that he can’t speak for the editorial or management side of the company because he’s “not a part of or privy to those decision-making processes.”
“All I can say is that basic decency dictates that everyone should be calling for Lewandowski's firing today over the assault on a reporter,” Shapiro wrote. “Everyone.”
Several top managers at Breitbart, a conservative news and opinion site that's been broadly supportive of Trump this election cycle, have so far declined to speak out, including executive chairman Stephen Bannon, an influential conservative with close ties to Trump, and editor-in-chief Alex Marlow.
Breitbart News CEO Larry Solov said in a statement issued around 2 a.m. Wednesday that “it’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and made physical contact with our reporter,” adding that if Lewandowski was the perpetrator, “he owes Michelle an immediate apology.”
The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove wrote Wednesday night that Breitbart had rolled over for the Republican front-runner, suggesting that the news outlet is more loyal to Trump than to one of its reporters grossly mistreated by his top campaign aide.
Breitbart reporter Patrick Howley added to that perception when he questioned Fields' account of the incident in a series of since-deleted tweets.
Breitbart suspended Howley Thursday afternoon and a spokesman reiterated its support for Fields.
"Patrick Howley was speaking for himself and not for Breitbart News," the spokesman, Kurt Bardella, said in a statement. "Senior Management at Breitbart News believes his comments were inappropriate and has decided to suspended him indefinitely effective immediately. Breitbart continues to stand 100% with Michelle Fields and believes that Corey Lewandowski must accept responsibility for his actions and apologize."
Grove also reported in The Daily Beast piece that Lewandowski had acknowledged manhandling Fields in a conversation with Breitbart’s Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle.
“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,” Grove wrote.
Boyle did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost about The Daily Beast's account.
A campaign staffer should never forcibly grab a reporter, regardless of what outlet she works for. It would be particularly troubling if Lewandowski would consider such behavior acceptable if the victim were a member of the so-called mainstream media.
It's also surprising Lewandowski would act so aggressively considering that the interactions between Trump and reporters at the time of the incident weren't tense or combative, according to Fields' account.
"What made this especially jarring is that there was no hint Trump was done taking questions," she wrote. "No one was pushing him to get away. He seemed to have been happily answering queries from my fellow reporters just a moment before.”
But even if Trump had been done taking questions, she wrote, "Lewandowski would be out of line."
"Campaign managers aren’t supposed to try to forcefully throw reporters to the ground, no matter the circumstance,” she wrote.
While physical violence appears to be a new development in Lewandowski's relationship with the media, he was already known for being combative. He threatened to blacklist a CNN reporter from the campaign in November for leaving the designated “press pen” to cover a protest. Two months later, Fox News accused Lewandowski of terrorizing anchor Megyn Kelly in urging the network to replace her as moderator of a debate.
This article was updated throughout as events developed.