Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Campaign Manager Charged with Assault. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 29, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00:] M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's important to point out that the Trump campaign said things like there's no footage, there's no irrefutable evidence that this is an incident that happened.


LEE: I don't know if this video, which is shown from a totally different angle all together, changes that narrative at all.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And the source of this video is the Jupiter police where she filed the complaint.

Let's talk about this. If you think of the headline, a campaign manager for the front runner in the Republican race, Donald Trump's campaign manager, arrested now and charged with battery.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: Cannot think of the last time we've heard that about any campaign in the presidential race.

BOLDUAN: Exactly right.

First, let me go to Kayleigh McEnany.

Kayleigh, you're a CNN commentator and Trump supporter. What do you say to this?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, this is not Donald Trump. This is an allegation against his campaign manager. I think first and foremost, that's the important thing to point out. Secondly, this is why we have courts of law. This is pending litigation. It's something that's important and should be vetted. No woman should be touched or bruised or man handled, and that's what court is for. Innocent until proven guilty. Corey deserves the presumption of innocence. We afford that to the worst of criminals in society. I think it's worth giving him his day in court and allowing it the audio the reporter says, "I don't see who grabbed me." We need to examine it and take the claim seriously. We need to take Corey's claim of innocence seriously as well.

BOLDUAN: That's an excellent point. Innocent until proven guilty. There is a presumption of innocence. And the campaign manager to reinforce what M.J. reported from campaign spokesperson says that he is absolutely innocent of this charge. Here's the thing, though, Bill Kristol, and you know this well from

your years following politics, the political court of law moves much quicker than the legal court of law.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yeah. One reason Michelle Fields, if I'm not mistaken, filed the claim is a Trump supporter said you're just saying this. If you were seriously assaulted, you'd file a complaint. She waited -- she thought she would just complain the way one does when is mistreated in a way that might not rise to a crime, and then she did file the criminal complaint. And now the Jupiter authorities have looked at it and decided there's enough to go ahead and charge, which they don't always do. They sometimes say it's an unfortunate incident but there's no crime. They didn't say that in this case. We don't know what will happen in court.

But if you put this together with the disparagement of Heidi Cruz and the treatment of Megyn Kelly and the attack of Carly Fiorina, it's a little -- I'm the last person to kind of charge feminism when one woman is attacked and criticized. They shouldn't be attacked and criticized like men are. But if you put this attack together, I think it's hard to say that the Trump campaign and Trump himself doesn't have a problem with strong and assertive women.

BOLDUAN: Alex, what do you imagine --


BOLDUAN: Alex, how do you imagine this playing out? I'm telling you to do instant analysis, but does this have an impact and how? What does this mean?

ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: We've seen this pattern in this campaign over and over. Every time it seems like Donald Trump has gained a strong and maybe permanent upper hand in the race. He or a member of his staff will go out and do something that gives the party establishment one more reason to sort of balk at rallying around him. I'm thinking of that sort of disastrous interview by David Duke, the messy cancelled campaign event in Chicago, the original incident with Michelle Fields.

This is the kind of thing if that if you're a Republican positional, looking for signs of the Trump campaign has reigned in their impulses and preparing to run a disciplined general election campaign, this is the kind of thing that raises eyebrows. I couldn't tell you what Trump is going to do next. I could tell you that in a typical campaign, when a staffer becomes the story, that person is typically sidelined in some way. That's now how Trump has chosen to handle this incident or any other in this campaign so far.

BOLDUAN: And Van Jones, do you think Donald Trump will stick true to form? He has stuck by Corey. Corey has stuck by Trump at every turn. Can Corey weather this storm?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You look at how he usually is, I would imagine that he is not going to distance himself. He may even embrace him more. The problem is it's not just the issue around gender and women, although that is a major issue. It's also just this whole patina of violence that is surrounding this campaign in a way that I don't think we've seen in at least one hundred years in American politics. The idea that you have this sort of violence at his rallies, people being sucker-punched and he says, I'm going to subsidize people who sucker-punch people at my rallies by paying their legal bills.

And then you have this situation and others. All of this stuff begins to bring the air out of balloon, I think, for normal people. There may be some very, very large hard-core segment of Trump that apologizes for anything, who will excuse the inexcusable. But normal Americans after a while, just a drip, drip, drip of this, you think do you want people getting sucker-punched in the Rose Garden? At what point does ordinary common sense set in and people say there's too much of this nonsense going on and there are too many who could be president without this type of stuff going on and people begin to back away from Trump.

[11:35:34] BOLDUAN: Kayleigh, I see you're shaking your head at all of this. I want to ask you, though, if this becomes a distraction, even as you said, it's not Donald Trump. It's his campaign manager. He's innocent until proven guilty. The fact that you see on the screen, Trump campaign chief charged with simple battery, and that is a charge involving a reporter covering the campaign. If he's become a distraction, do you think he should be sidelined until it plays out?

MCENANY: If the reason is he's just a distraction, that's up to Donald Trump. If Donald Trump thinks it's a distraction that he wants to keep on board because he trusts him and believes the account of events, I think that's fair. But the larger narrative of calling Donald Trump violent and saying his rallies are violent, the reason we've seen it at the rallies is because leftist protesters have showed up. I've watched the videos of them trying to beat down doors at Trump rallies that are peacefully assembled because they're trying to breach the door to enter. I've seen videos of the protester who lunged at Donald Trump while he's on the stage.

This has been a coordinated effort to bring violence to the Trump rally. Yes, no one deserved to be sucker-punched, but the larger narrative is left wing protesters are showing up with signs that the media can't even turn their cameras towards for the fear of the words on the signs. Children can't watch the protesters. That is the narrative. It's unfair to say that this is just Trump supporters engaging in violence. It's the opposite.

JONES: I see it differently.

MCENANY: It is protesters blocking the path of entry to the events.

BOLDUAN: Hold on, Van.

Hold on, Kayleigh.

Actually, hold on, everybody. Let's take a quick break. We'll continue to follow the breaking news

and talk about the legal implications and what more we're picking up. We're getting new reporting about all of this. The breaking news, Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, charged, arrested. Charged with misdemeanor battery involving a reporter covering the Trump campaign.

We'll be right back after this.


[11:42:09] BOLDUAN: We're following the breaking news right now. Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, turned himself in this morning in Florida on the charge of misdemeanor battery. The assault charges stemming from an incident earlier this month involving a journalist covering the campaign, Michelle Fields. Again, Donald Trump's campaign having to answer to it, saying Mr. Corey Lewandowski is innocent of this charge. This breaking news all coming in.

This is new video from the Jupiter police of the incident. We'll analyze that in just a second.

First, let me get straight to Sara Murray, in Wisconsin, following the Donald Trump campaign.

Sara, you have been following this campaign for a very long time. What are you hearing from them right now?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the campaign is maintaining that Corey Lewandowski was not arrested. Like you said, he turned himself in, and that he's looking forward to his day in court. They put out a statement saying "Mr. Lewandowski is innocent of this charge. He will enter a plea of not guilty."

And this is sort of what the campaign has maintained from the beginning, that it was not Corey Lewandowski. At one point, they suggested it was maybe a security guard or a member of Secret Service who grabbed Michelle Fields by the arm. Of course, like you said, you have more video. You guys can analyze that after.

The campaign has maintained from the beginning that Corey Lewandowski was innocent of this. Obviously, they felt there was enough to bring charges. This will go forward, potentially move forward in court.

We're also waiting to hear from his attorneys. We've reached out. And we'll give you an update on that when we get it -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Sara, we'll come back to you. As you get it, flag us and we'll bring you in.

Let me bring in Brian Stelter and M.J. Lee. They've been picking up new details on this.

M.J., you've been looking at the report, the police report, that eventually was filed. Tell me what you're picking up. M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. This police report

shows that Lewandowski has a court date of May 4th. That's important to note. It also states that the reporter involved in this incident came to the Jupiter Police Department on March 11th. That's three days after the alleged incident. And the report details what she told him. She indicated after she tried to ask Donald Trump a question at the press conference, she felt someone grab her article and, quote, "fell back but caught herself from falling." Apparently, Fields showed her arm to the police officer interviewing her. He says that he saw what appears to be several finger marks, indicating a grabbing- type injury. And, of course, now we know that the charge that has been given to Corey Lewandowski is battery. So all of this coming together pretty quickly.

We also have new video that we're playing here. That really seems to show this incident from a new angle. We've seen different videos from that night, but I think this overhead camera, I don't think this is one we've seen before.

[11:45:13] STELTER: And this is new today. This is another angle. We did not have access two weeks ago. When this happened, Corey Lewandowski denied it and tweeted at Michelle Fields and said, "You are totally delusional, I never touched you. I've never even met you." Donald Trump, in interviews, suggested that Michelle Fields made this story up. However, there was audio at the time. A "Washington Post" reporter witnessed this and said it was Lewandowski who was involved. You could hear Michelle Fields at the time saying, "I can't believe he just did that. That was so hard. That was insane." Quote, "You should have felt how hard he grabbed me. I've never had anybody do that to me from a campaign." It sounds like she told a similar story later.

BOLDUAN: It's interesting. Maybe it was the same day she ended up going to police, there was -- and as we go to Twitter to follow. That's where we get a lot of things -- Corey Lewandowski tweeted from his account to Michelle Fields saying, "You are totally delusional. I never touched you. As a matter of fact, I have never met you." That played --


STELTER: For a couple weeks, this was in dispute. This is the kind of story that was controversialized quickly. People took sides quickly. And now after a couple of weeks, authorities in Florida that have come to the conclusion that there's probable cause to charge him.

LEE: This doesn't prove that Corey knew who she was at the time. He may have touched her or grabbed her. He may have done so not knowing who he was touching.

BOLDUAN: Guys, I'm going to go over right now to CNN legal analyst, Danny Cevallos.

We want to take a look at this video. We have a clearer view because we were able to highlight the area. The question here is the legal implications. This is early. Corey Lewandowski, they strongly believe he'll be exonerated. He's innocent until proven guilty, of course. That goes without saying.

This is the video. What you see right here is Donald Trump. This is Michelle Fields. This looks exactly like Corey Lewandowski. If anyone knows him, this looks like him. What do you see?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what you see here is him apparently reaching in. You see the reporter's body at the Donald Trump -- that apparently is Donald Trump. Shortly after this, because this is sort of a frame by frame video, you see her body move pretty significantly several inches, maybe even a foot or so back.


BOLDUAN: Can we play it back?

CEVALLOS: That would tend to suggest that there was some sort of grabbing and jerking motion. The important thing to understand, Florida, like most states, as a misdemeanor form of battery and the threshold is low. Any intentional touching that was without the person's consent is potentially a crime. And the law is very specific. You need not cause harm. You need not cause injury. So long as that touching was unpermitted, unconsented to, then you may potentially be charged with misdemeanor battery.

BOLDUAN: So it's a low threshold. It does look like she does jerk back, but this video is jerky, in and of itself, because it's a frame by frame thing.

CEVALLOS: Correct.

BOLDUAN: Do you think this proves anything one way or another?

CEVALLOS: It appears to prove -- remember, you don't just have the video. You'll have the testimony of a complainant, and even that alone could potentially be enough far conviction. And when you couple it with the throw threshold for all misdemeanor batteries in all the states -- again, it's an intentional touching without consent, irrespective of injury. With that in mind, then almost any touching is a strong case for a battery.

What you might and anticipate as a defense -- and I'm sort of spit balling at this point. It might be that, in a crowd like this, Corey Lewandowski may have perceived some threat to Donald Trump, may not have recognized her, and he was only using the amount of reasonable force he saw necessary to protect a third party from some kind of force. That's just an idea going forward.

BOLDUAN: What does a misdemeanor battery charge in Florida, what kind of punishment?

CEVALLOS: It will be under a year in jail, especially with somebody with no prior record. When we talk about statutory maxes, it's not going to get statutory max. But any misdemeanor conviction has a lot of collateral consequences, too, especially when you're a high-ranking political official.

BOLDUAN: That's when we talk about the politics.

Danny, stand by for me.

Let me walk back over here. Let's talk about the political consequences.

It's surprising to me that in just the unconventional nature of this race, Alex, just that we are going frame by frame now having to look and analyze exactly what played out, and if the campaign manager did grab and pull back, and manhandle a report.

[11:50:08] BURNS: That's definitely one way to describe it.

Look, I think it underscores really the unusual way Trump has approached both staffing his campaign and managing his campaign, that there have been any number of complaints about either Trump personally or members of his staff. Another candidate may have taken as an opportunity to trim his sails or smooth out or impose greater discipline. Trump vows personal loyalty fiercely, and no fiercest advocate warrior than Corey Lewandowski. This is what happens. And ultimately, you paint yourself in to a corner as a candidate when you stand by people with this categorical language over and over again. There was no contact. They didn't even meet. She's making the story up. We now obviously have information that complicates that. It's not clear how you would, as Donald Trump, gracefully extricate himself out of it.

BOLDUAN: Bill Kristol, how should a candidate deal with this?

KRISTOL: What is revealing and you don't, he had Secret Service protection at this point. It is astounding for a staffer to take it upon herself to principal from a rather small slight reporter. But maybe he got flustered or wanted Donald Trump to make it out of the room.

For what me what is most revealing is the immediate reaction. It wasn't, gee, I'm sorry if there was incidental contact here. I didn't mean to do anything here. It was the hubbub, the crowd. Mr. Trump wanted to leave the room and I'm sorry if I reached out and grabbed her in a harder way than I expected. That's the reaction I would have assisted a staffer put out, if it had happened when I was working for the vice president. Instead, what is the reaction, she's delusional. Really? You attack someone who felt she was grabbed in a rough way, and first thing you do is attack her, and Trump weighs in on the same issue, not just the staff. It tells you a lot about Trump, the Trump campaign, and the spirit of the campaign, which is not to run a normal civilized campaign and apologize if you do something, but rather to attack anyone who, in this case, seems to have told the truth.

BOLDUAN: Let me go to Jim Acosta. He's covering the campaign. He's in Wisconsin right now.

Jim, you have heard the conversation that's been playing out around the table. You have seen the video. What are you picking up?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We can tell you the Trump campaign is trying to limit the damage. The Trump campaign spokeswoman is emphasizing that Corey Lewandowski was not "arrested." He was given a notice to appear in court. This, as you were saying, stems back to this incident that occurred March 8th, Michelle Fields, the reporter, was touched or grabbed by Corey Lewandowski. It's not clear when you look at that C-Span footage what happened, but she maintains that she was manhandled, roughed up a little bit by Corey Lewandowski when she was trying to chase down Donald Trump after one of these campaign events.

You know, I can tell you, we're here in Wisconsin. Donald Trump is just some days away from hoping to rack up a win in the Wisconsin primary, and this is obviously the kind of distraction the campaign doesn't need at this point. You know, we have watched Donald Trump throughout the course of the campaign face these huge distractions and overcome them. It's not clear as to how much damage this will do to the Trump campaign.

I will tell you, from dealing with the Trump campaign for several months -- and my colleague, Sara Murray, can confirm this -- that Corey Lewandowski is Donald Trump's right-hand man. Donald Trump relies heavily on Corey Lewandowski, his political expertise. Donald Trump is a non-politician politician, so he relied on Corey Lewandowski all this time, setting up these massive campaign events and racking up big wins in important states heading to the nomination.

No question about it, this is the situation. Obviously, the Trump campaign is saying Corey Lewandowski is innocent. But this is going to raise more and more questions inside of the Republican Party, among women voters, about what is going on with this campaign, what's going on with Trump, and why is his campaign manager facing this type of charge and being asked to appear in court. This is not what the Trump campaign wants to be dealing with right now. But, as I said, he's weathered the storms before -- Kate?

[11:55:00] BOLDUAN: He sure has.

Kayleigh, let me bring you in on a final word on this.

An additional note, Corey Lewandowski is also a former police officer. He knows the law. I think he was a police officer in New Hampshire. Who knows how that plays in to what role he sees himself in with regard to Donald Trump and the Trump campaign. Let me bring you in to have a final word on this with regard to the distraction factor. He's innocent until proven guilty, will be exonerated. But this is one week before a very important primary in Wisconsin. You can expect that Donald Trump will be asked questions about this until that day.

MCENANY: He will. You know, it is a distraction and I think Donald Trump will have to weigh -- he is a close adviser he respects and cares about very much. The flip side of dealing with this lawsuit, as a side story. The most important point is this will play out in court. We will see the fate of Mr. Lewandowski, but it shows it happened to Donald Trump's back. Donald Trump did not see what happened f. Any of our close confidants, relatives or friends were accused of something, first thing we would ask is did you do this or did you not. If they said I did not do this, we would take up for them and be loyal. That's the point I want to put out. Donald Trump was being loyal to a close adviser. He didn't see what happened. At the end of the day, Donald Trump is the presidential candidate, not Corey Lewandowski. I don't think this will have an impact going forward.

BOLDUAN: Much more on this breaking news. We'll be right after this.

Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's campaign manager, charged with simple battery, misdemeanor battery, following an incident with a campaign reporter covering Donald Trump.

Much more breaking news coverage right after this.