Trump has no regrets about praising congressman who assaulted reporter


President Trump said Friday he does not regret praising a Republican congressman who assaulted a reporter.

"No, no. Not at all," Trump responded when asked if he regretted his comments at a campaign rally the previous night.

Trump's praise of Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) came amid an international outcry over the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The president said Friday that Gianforte's assault of a reporter last year was in "a different world" and "a different league" than what happened to Khashoggi, a dissident journalist who was allegedly murdered by a team of Saudi agents inside his country's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

The president on Thursday night called the Montana congressman, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault last year for body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, "a great guy" and said his rally in the Big Sky State was a "tremendous success."

"That was a tremendous success last night in Montana and Greg is a tremendous person and he’s a tough cookie, but I’ll stay with that," Trump said Friday.

The president triggered another controversy over his attitudes toward the news media when he brought up the Gianforte assault in front of a raucous crowd of supporters at the rally.

"I heard that he had body-slammed a reporter," Trump said. "I said, 'Oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election.' But then I said, 'Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him,' and it did."

The comments provoked laughter from rally-goers and condemnation from news media organizations.

"All Americans should recoil from the president's praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job. This amounts to the celebration of a crime by someone sworn to uphold our laws and an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has solemnly pledged to defend it," said Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents' Association.

Trump's heated rhetoric about the media has helped fuel scrutiny of Trump's handling of the Khashoggi case.

The president on Friday said it is still “too early” to draw conclusions about the case, but opened the door to using sanctions as a potential punishment for anyone found responsible for the journalist's fate.

“Could be,” he said when asked about possible sanctions, adding that he would “very much listen” to lawmakers in crafting a U.S. response.

“It's something that we don’t like, very serious stuff, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Critics have accused the president of trying to protect Saudi Arabia from being held accountable and being more concerned about the U.S.'s geopolitical relationship with the kingdom than its human rights record.

But Trump on Thursday shifted his tone, acknowledging for the first time that Khashoggi is likely dead and pledging consequences if Saudi Arabia is found to be involved.

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