US President Donald Trump has praised a Republican congressman who assaulted a journalist last year with a “body slam”, referring to him as “my guy”.
“Greg is smart,” Mr Trump said of Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, adding “By the way, never wrestle him”.
“Any guy that can do a body slam… he’s my guy,” he said to cheers and laughter at a rally in Montana.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Guardian newspaper have called on Mr Trump to apologise.
This latest praise from Mr Trump is unlikely to improve his relationship with the media, which he has previously labelled the “enemy of the people”.
He said he had feared that the 2017 assault could have hindered Mr Gianforte’s chances of winning the special congressional election that followed. Mr Trump told supporters: “I said wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him – and it did”.
After praising Mr Gianforte, Mr Trump also mimicked a person being thrown forcefully to the ground.
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The president’s controversial remarks come as Turkish officials continue to investigate the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
With weeks to go before the mid-term elections, Mr Gianforte is expected to win again, this time over Democratic challenger Kathleen Williams.
Ms Williams has used the 2017 body slam in a new campaign ad, saying “assault and lies” are not representative of Montana’s values.
A spokesperson for Mr Gianforte said on Thursday that he “regrets what happened” last year, according to the Billings Gazette.
“He’s not perfect, he’s taken personal responsibility, this has been widely covered, he’s moved on.”
What happened last year?
Mr Gianforte, 56, pleaded guilty to assaulting a journalist from the UK’s Guardian newspaper on the eve of his election last year.
He was ordered to pay $385 (£304), complete 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counselling.
Ben Jacobs, the reporter who was attacked after asking the candidate whether he supported the Republican healthcare plan, agreed not to sue Mr Gianforte if he wrote a letter of apology and donated $50,000 (£39,500) to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
A letter sent by Mr Gianforte to Mr Jacobs later offered a “sincere apology”.
“My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable and unlawful,” it said.
What’s the reaction now?
Amid an uproar on social media, Mr Trump’s comments a year on have also prompted the campaign group CPJ to demand his apology.
“We are disturbed once again to see President Trump standing up for those who would attack the press,” said Courtney Radsch, the CPJ’s advocacy director.
In a statement, the Guardian’s US editor John Mulholland said he hoped the president would apologise for his comments, adding: “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment [of the US Constitution] by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.”
He said the incident “runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists”.
On Friday, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May told the Guardian: “We would always say that any violence or intimidation against a journalist is completely unacceptable.”