If the campaign for the Republican presidential campaign can be likened to a circus, then the legal eruption over alleged battery by Donald Trump’s campaign manager promises the possibility that the circus might get franchised. Corey Lewandowski surrendered to police in Jupiter, Florida on Monday after they charged him with simple battery on reporter Michelle Fields. At the same time, they released overhead video that belies the public denials from Lewandowski that Fields was “delusional” and Trump’s assertion that nothing happened.
Under normal circumstances, a candidate would issue an apology and fire the campaign manager. Instead, Trump told Good Morning America that he might file simple battery charges against Fields for touching him too:
Donald Trump says he is considering legal action in response to a recent battery charge against campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
“Frankly, this is not a claim that should have been made,” Trump told ABC News’ David Muir on “Good Morning America.”
Lewandowski was arrested on Tuesday morning for allegedly grabbing former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields following a Trump event earlier this month. Trump dismissed the incident as “very minor,” saying that “she was hardly even touched” and “practically nothing happened.”
“I’m sure there will be a counter-claim coming down the line,” Trump added. “Should I file charges against her because she touched my arm as well?”
Let’s start with the basics. Simple battery is defined in the same Florida statute that also defines felony battery:
784.03 Battery; felony battery.—
(1)(a) The offense of battery occurs when a person:
1. Actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other; or
2. Intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.
(b) Except as provided in subsection (2), a person who commits battery commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(2) A person who has one prior conviction for battery, aggravated battery, or felony battery and who commits any second or subsequent battery commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. For purposes of this subsection, “conviction” means a determination of guilt that is the result of a plea or a trial, regardless of whether adjudication is withheld or a plea of nolo contendere is entered.
Battery consists of physical contact intentionally applied “against the will of the other.” That’s a pretty broad description, but it does have legal and practical limits on interpretation. “Battery” does not cover someone moving into a person’s personal space alone, and it seems very doubtful that police would consider a reporter’s tap on the arm to ask a question of a candidate to qualify. There has to be evidence of demonstrable contact that clearly conflicts with the other’s will — like someone lunging forward to grab and impede a person’s progress. The video shows a pretty clear indication of that with Lewandowski, but nothing even close from Fields in regard to Trump. Furthermore, a “counter-claim” would involve a charge from Lewandowski, not Trump, and Fields wasn’t close to Lewandowski in the video until he reached out and grabbed her.
Still, anyone can file a report with the police department. The prospect of a presidential candidate walking into the Jupiter police station to complain that a reporter tapped him on the arm would be just one more signpost along the way to this cycle’s Twilight Zone, and in any other cycle would make the candidate a laughingstock. Isn’t the Trump raison d’être his supposed toughness?
Update: Gary Gross provides a frame-by-frame analysis of the tape, and does not see much of a case for a Trump complaint.