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Trump Praises GOP Congressman For Assault On Reporter

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Despite the recent attention on the safety of journalists after the apparent murder of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump on Thursday offered praise for a Republican Congressman accused of assaulting a reporter last year.

Trump described Congressman Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., as a "great guy" and a "tough cookie" during a campaign rally in Missoula, Montana.

The praise from Trump comes even though Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault last year after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs claimed the then-candidate "body-slammed" him for asking a question about healthcare policy.

"Greg is smart. And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand. Never," Trump said. "Any guy that can do a body-slam — he's my guy."

Gianforte's campaign initially blamed Jacobs for the incident, with the Congressman only accepting responsibility after winning the special election last May.

After subsequently pleading guilty to assault, Gianforte was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger-management counseling and payment of a $385 fine.

Trump said he was initially concerned about the news of Gianforte's attack on the reporter but suggested the assault actually helped the Congressman win the election.

"We endorsed Greg very early. But I heard that he body-slammed a reporter. This was the day of the election or just before, and I thought, 'Oh, this is terrible! He's going to lose the election,'" Trump recounted.

"And then I said, 'Wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him,'" the president continued. "And it did."

John Mulholland, the Guardian's U.S. editor, called Trump's celebration of the assault of a journalist an "attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it."

"In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats," Mulholland said in a statement.

He added, "We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them."

Trump has had a combative relationship with the media throughout his presidency, repeatedly referring to reports he does not like as "fake news."

In the race for Montana's lone House seat, Gianforte is running against Democratic former state legislator Kathleen Williams.

A Gravis Marketing poll conducted last month showed Gianforte with a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Williams among likely Montana voters.

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