Members of the national press ripped President Trump after he publicly celebrated a Republican lawmaker who body-slammed a reporter, even as his administration is demanding answers about dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was reportedly murdered by Saudi Arabian officials.
Trump said at a rally Thursday night in Missoula, Mont., that Rep. Greg Gianforte's confrontation with a reporter ahead of a special election last year likely may have helped him win.
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of [guy],” Trump said to laughter.
He said that even as mounting evidence shows that Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who has written critically of the Saudi Arabia’s royal family, was likely killed at the direction of the Saudi government. Many in the press indicated that they thought Trump was sending a troubling signal that the U.S. wouldn't take Khashoggi's disappearance very seriously.
[Related: White House Correspondents' Association slams Trump's 'praise for a violent assault' on reporter]
“A short time after threatening consequences over Jamal Khashoggi, the president celebrated an attack on another member of the press, by a congressman,” said news anchor Norah O’Donnell on Friday’s broadcast of CBS’s “This Morning.”
CNN anchor John Berman said Trump had “literally glorified an attack on the press” at the rally and that noted that it happened “three weeks after the apparent murder and dismemberment” of Khashoggi.
CNN political analyst John Avlon was another to directly link Trump’s comments on Gianforte to Khashoggi.
“Yeah, trying to provide cover for the Saudis, frankly, that very day and that night the president jokes about a reporter attack,” he said.
The President praised Congressman Greg Gianforte, who you'll remember ... assaulted a reporter for The Guardian," reports @JohnBerman.— New Day (@NewDay) October 19, 2018
"This happens three weeks after the apparent murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi," he points out. pic.twitter.com/t0uc0D25LR
The day before the vote for Gianforte’s special election race, a journalist for the Guardian approached him to ask about healthcare policy, and Gianforte reportedly grabbed him by the neck and took him to the ground.
Gianforte was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and several hours more of anger management classes, and he also covered medical costs for the reporter who was injured. Gianforte won his race but was charged with misdemeanor assault, to which he pleaded guilty.
One reporter argued that Trump was incorrectly viewing Gianforte as a tough guy, and said his attack against the reporter was "unhinged."
“Nothing tough about jumping a reporter for asking you a substantive question. Just unhinged,” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan said on Twitter.
And Gianforte and his staff lied about the incident to smear Ben. Only reason Gianforte got caught is because there was a tape. Nothing tough about jumping a reporter for asking you a substantive question. Just unhinged. https://t.co/nM4gvSNgnh— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) October 19, 2018
Trump in recent days has taken a light approach in addressing the disappearance of Khashoggi, who is believed to have been murdered at the direction of the Saudi government. Khashoggi was last seen entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey, where he was said to have been obtaining paperwork that would allow him to remarry.
Trump has publicly requested more information on what happened but has so far declined to directly blame Saudi Arabia or state what action he would take.