WASHINGTON – Donald Trump said he was worried that a reporter walking with him through a ballroom and asking questions earlier this month may have been armed with a bomb or a knife, disguised as a pen. And that, he said, justified his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, grabbing her by the arm and yanking her away.
But the ring of Secret Service agents escorting Trump didn’t appear to even flinch and walked calmly around the candidate.
And security officials didn’t escort the reporter, Michelle Fields, out of the ballroom, nor did they arrest her, as they say they would have if a person was considered to be getting too close for comfort.
Lewandowski was charged Tuesday with simple battery and police in Jupiter, Florida, released surveillance video that shows Lewandowski pulling Fields, who worked for Breitbart News at the time, as she walked alongside Trump.
Still, Trump and his campaign say Fields was a threat and had to be removed from her spot next to the candidate.
The Secret Service declined to comment Tuesday and isn’t involved in the criminal case.
“Our concern is overt acts of threats to our protected” officials, Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy told a congressional panel earlier this month.
But if someone is deemed a threat, or makes a verbal threat, agents jump into action. That happened earlier this month when an Ohio man ran toward a stage where Trump was speaking in Dayton, Ohio. The man was quickly taken into custody as Secret Service agents closely surrounded Trump.
Trump’s most recent defense of Lewandowski suggests he thought there may have been a security gap that could have allowed a reporter to bring a weapon into the ballroom where he was speaking and allowed the same reporter to get too close to him.
A former Secret Service agent who worked on multiple protective details told The Associated Press Wednesday that if someone breaches a so-called “zone of protection” established by agents, agents can and often do tell people to get back. If needed, agents will use their arms to move someone away or clear a path in a crowd, said the former agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for the agency. While there is no audio on the video released Tuesday, it does not show agents moving Fields out of the way.
Anyone allowed into a secured venue is subjected to a security screening. That includes reporters, who routinely have their bags examined and pass through metal detectors.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident in Florida, Trump, Lewandowski and a campaign spokeswoman denied any such confrontation happened. They collectively changed their statements after Lewandowski was charged Tuesday and pointed to Fields as the guilty party.
“It is clear that she made unwanted contact with Mr. Trump on two separate occasions,” campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email response to a request for comment Wednesday.
But Hicks declined to say if the campaign has complained about the incident to the Secret Service or address why the campaign denied the existence of a confrontation earlier this month.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.