WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump on Tuesday unleashed a new line of attack against former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, just hours after Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, was charged with battery in connection with an altercation with the journalist on March 8.
"How do you know those bruises weren't there before?" Trump asked reporters aboard his plane in Wisconsin, referring to bruises that Fields photographed after Lewandowski grabbed her. "I'm not a lawyer," Trump said. "If you're going to get squeezed, wouldn't you think she would have yelled out a scream or something if she has bruises on her arm?"
The Trump campaign appears to be engaging in textbook victim-blaming. When Fields first reported what happened to her, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, suggested Fields was not believable because she had reported a previous incident of police abuse. This is a classic tactic used to undermine women and other individuals who report assault -- claiming that because a person reports assault more than once, he or she must be lying.
Earlier this month, Lewandowski called Fields "an attention seeker," "totally delusional" and denied ever having met her. Trump piled on, saying “perhaps she made the story up. I think that’s what happened.” This reaction, immediately denying the event ever happened, rather than waiting until the allegations are investigated, will be familiar to many women. In Fields’ case, video footage released on Tuesday clearly shows Lewandowski roughly grabbing her.
The new footage forced the Trump campaign to shift tactics, and late Tuesday the candidate pivoted to accusing Fields of exaggerating and making up her injuries. He even went so far as to suggest that because she didn’t scream, she wasn’t injured, an age-old strategy used to discredit victims, especially those who have suffered domestic violence and rape.
“Nothing says ‘cherish women’ like questioning a woman’s motive after her assault has been caught on camera,” said Marcy Stech, a spokesperson for Emily’s List, a political organization that seeks to elect pro-abortion rights women, in a statement. “If Trump can’t be trusted to condemn what’s wrong," she added, "how can he even begin to comprehend what’s right for women?”
In at least one way, Fields is luckier than most. Many women who report battery do not have video, an eyewitness, or a national platform to give weight to their allegations.
As Trump worked himself up into a tizzy during an impromptu press conference Tuesday afternoon, the presidential candidate began painting himself as the victim of the altercation between Lewandowski and Fields, who Trump said, was "grabbing at me, and [Lewandowski] was acting as an intermediary and trying to block her from doing that."
"She was grabbing me. [Am I] supposed to file charges against her?" Lewandowski, Trump said, was protecting him, and "trying to get her off of me."
Boxed into a corner by the newly released video, Trump turned to an argument of last resort, repeatedly emphasizing that Lewandowski is "a good person," and "he's got a family [and] four beautiful children. I think it's very, very unfair to a man with a wonderful family," Trump said.
The allegations against Lewandowski will be weighed by a court later this year. But for now, the fact that he is reportedly nice, or has a family, is totally irrelevant to whether or not he roughed up Fields.
Seemingly unable to contain himself, Trump told reporters that their trip on the campaign plane was more injurious than Fields' alleged battery. "You were pushed around more getting on to this plane right now than [Fields] was pushed around," Trump said. "I just can't stand by and watch a man's life be destroyed, be destroyed."
Trump then accused Fields, a successful journalist of being somehow motivated by a desire for Trump's money. Trump referred to a statement Fields gave that was supported by the video evidence. "Look at her original statement, before she knew that Donald Trump is rich and has cameras all over the ceiling," Trump said, referring to himself in the third person. He seemed to be saying that Fields changed her story, which is categorically untrue.
Trump's spokeswoman also said on Tuesday Lewandowski would keep his job even if he were to be found guilty of battery later this year (he is due back in court in May).
"By standing with Lewandowski, his male campaign manager caught red-handed assaulting a female reporter, Trump is making his views on violence and violence against women abundantly clear," Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, a national women's advocacy organization, said in a statement. "These views thoroughly disqualify him from serving as President.”