Trump Praises GOP Rep's Assault of Reporter, Even as Khashoggi Story Looms Large

President Donald Trump praised a Montana Republican who physically assaulted a reporter at a rally Thursday amid accusations that he is helping Saudi Arabia cover up the murder of a Washington Post reporter.

Speaking at a rally in Montana Thursday, Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs days before his special election win.

As Gianforte walked off stage at Trump's rally, the president quipped, “By the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of … he’s my guy.”

Trump went to mimic Gianforte's bodyslam of the reporter. The crowd cheered when Trump pointed at the press and mentioned he was in Rome when he “heard that [Gianforte] body-slammed a reporter.”

“He’s a great guy, tough cookie,” Trump gushed.

Gianforte pleaded guilty to assault after he threw Jacobs to the ground for asking him about the Republican healthcare plan, though the guilty plea came after the congressman and his staff lied about the incident before a tape of the assault was released. Gianforte was sentenced to required anger management classes.

The president praising the assault of a journalist is disturbing enough, but it comes as the president is embroiled in an even more insidious attack on a journalist.

Guardian Editor John Mulholland slammed Trump for applauding “the assault of an American journalist.”

“To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken the oath to defend it,” he said in a statement. “In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and around the world where they often face far greater threats.”

Despite mounting evidence that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and killed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump has repeatedly insisted that the leader is innocent until proven guilty and even suggested a “rogue killers” conspiracy theory.

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is known to communicate with the crown prince via Whatsapp, urged Trump to let the Saudi ruler weather the storm.

“Mr. Kushner has argued that the outrage over Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible killing will pass, just as it did after other Saudi errors like the kidnapping of the prime minister of Lebanon and the killing of a busload of children in Yemen,” The Times reported, though it later changed the section to read, “Mr. Kushner has argued that the crown prince can survive the outrage just as he has weathered past criticism.”

The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration is actively working with the Saudis to cover up the crown prince's alleged role in the murder.

“The Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — one that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is among the president’s closest foreign allies, according to analysts and officials in multiple countries,” The Post reported.

“In a series of private conversations, Trump has reportedly been looking for ways to continue protecting the Saudi-U.S. relationship, fretting about the Saudi investment in U.S. arms, the future flow of Saudi oil and the implications of alienating a country that could help counter Iran’s influence,” another Post report said.

While the reported behind-the-scenes discussions are damning, Trump has been equally defensive of his Saudi ally in public, suggesting that he cares more about the arms deal with the country than taking action against a government accused of targeting, torturing, killing, and dismembering a journalist who was critical of their regime. He has compared the allegations against MBS to the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, claiming both should be considered innocent.

The New York Times Editorial Board warned that allowing MBS to get away with the apparent murder would send a chilling message to other despots around the world.

“If Saudi Arabia is allowed to get away with some lame story about the apparent murder of Mr. Khashoggi, the world’s growing gang of autocrats will feel even less constraint,” the board wrote.

“There are plenty of measures at Mr. Trump’s disposal that would send the right message, from personal sanctions against those behind the Khashoggi operation to a suspension of arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Trump’s aides, members of Congress and allied leaders need to insist that he take the lead in demanding that Saudi Arabia acknowledge what really happened, and why it’s terribly wrong.”

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