A Florida prosecutor has decided not to prosecute Donald Trump’s campaign manager for battery after a March run-in with former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, sources with knowledge of the situation told POLITICO.
The decision not to press charges against Corey Lewandowski is scheduled to be announced on Thursday afternoon by Palm Beach County State Attorney David Aronberg.
Fields may still pursue a defamation case against Lewandowski, a source said.
Fields filed a police report last month after Lewandowski grabbed her by the arm and moved her out of Trump’s way following a press conference at Trump National Gold Club in Jupiter. She said he left bruises on her arm. Police later charged Lewandowski with simple battery, releasing video from surveillance cameras that shows Lewandowski reaching for and grabbing Fields.
Aronberg would not comment, but in a POLITICO interview last week, he pointed out that Jupiter police had a low “probable cause” standard to cite Lewandowski for battery. But the responsibility for moving forward with a full-blown prosecution rested with Aronberg’s office, which had to consider whether a crime occurred and whether they believed a jury of Floridians would prosecute.
“We have a higher standard to go forward with a prosecution,” he said.
Fields would not comment on the record. Lewandowski could not immediately be reached for comment.
Many lawyers said they just didn’t think jurors would think of this case as a battery, even though it met the technical threshold for the crime under Florida law, which essentially defines battery as unwanted touching.
“If you asked people to describe a battery, this certainly wouldn’t cut it. No injury, no damage, no nothing,” said veteran Miami criminal defense lawyer David Oscar Markus, who earlier this month successfully defended former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Delmon Young in a battery case involving a Miami valet.
“Not every minor interaction needs to go to court. Time for everyone to chill out,” he said. “Jeb Bush has a better claim for battery against Trump after those debates than this reporter does against Lewandowski.”
Despite the appearance of a small incident, the Lewandowski case had big ramifications.
Fields, along with at least six other colleagues, resigned from Breitbart after the incident, saying the conservative-website known for its pro-Trump slant was not properly supporting her. Fields was also forced to flee her home and at one point, Washington, D.C. because of death threats she received after several news organizations accidentally published Lewandowski’s full police report, which included Fields’ personal contact information.
Initially, Trump, Lewandowski and his campaign questioned whether the incident even took place, saying Fields was attention-seeking and questioning her character. Following the charges filed by police, Trump began test-driving what was likely a factor in the prosecutor’s decision to not pursue the case: Claiming that Fields touched him first.
Trump also said she was where she shouldn’t have been by slipping inside the perimeter of Secret Service agents who were in charge of protecting him. An anonymous Secret Service agent told DailyMail.com that Fields was told to stay away from Trump.
In making those statements, Trump helped lay the foundation for Lewandowski to raise a “defense of others” argument, which allows someone to forcibly grab another person if he or she is somewhere prohibited and poses a potential threat.
Aronberg made clear to POLITICO that he had watched at least one Trump interview by FOX’s Sean Hannity where Trump had subtly raised this “defense of others” doctrine. In deciding whether to prosecute, Aronberg’s office would take into account the potential success of Trump raising this argument in court.
While Aronberg said every case is taken seriously and is handled fairly, the reality is that this simple misdemeanor battery case was only a high priority because of media attention. His office, one of the largest in Florida, oversees 125,000 criminal cases a year, including murders, rapes, robberies and police brutality incidents.
Trump has steadfastly stood behind his campaign manager. But behind the scenes, Lewandowski’s role in the campaign is shrinking as the campaign matures and as of the result of long-simmering concerns among some members of Trump’s inner circle about Lewandowski’s lack of national experience, his perceived unwillingness to challenge Trump and his brash temperament. The campaign recently brought on convention manager, Paul Manafort and on Wednesday, announced the hiring of former Scott Walker campaign manager Rick Wiley.
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