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Florida prosecutor drops battery charge against Donald Trump's campaign manager

Florida prosecutor drops battery charge against Donald Trump's campaign manager
Corey Lewandowski, campaign manager for presidential candidate Donald Trump. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

A Florida prosecutor said Thursday he would not prosecute Donald Trump's campaign manager for grabbing and bruising a reporter's arm, saying the battery charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

Palm Beach County State Atty. Dave Aronberg agreed with police in Jupiter, Fla., that there was "probable cause" to find Trump aide Corey Lewandowski committed battery on March 8 when he yanked the arm of Michelle Fields, then a reporter for Breitbart.

But the standard for criminal prosecution is higher than it is for filing police charges, Aronberg said. The case that police filed against Lewandowski was not strong enough to succeed in court, he said.

"If we know in advance that reasonable doubt exists, and we're not going to be able to get a conviction, or even beyond a judgment of acquittal by the judge, we can't ethically file those charges," Aronberg said at a news conference in Florida.

On Thursday night, Lewandowski told Fox News that the charge that resulted from the encounter "was a huge distraction for the campaign, and it should never have been."

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"When I walked by Michelle Fields that night, I said, 'Excuse me. Thank you,'" he said. "Because I was trying to walk between her and Mr. Trump. And that's what polite people do. They say excuse me and thank you. I don't remember anything more than that."

The battery charge that police filed against Lewandowski on March 29 rattled Trump's campaign before the Wisconsin Republican presidential primary, which he lost a week later to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. It came as Trump's approval rating among women was hitting new lows.

Prosecutors said that Fields, who posted a photo of her bruised arm on Twitter after the incident, expressed disappointment when they informed her Thursday of their decision.

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On Twitter, Fields complained Wednesday that the decision to drop the case was leaked to the media before prosecutors informed her. "Ugly," she wrote.

She also rejected Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren offer of "free legal advice" not to file a civil suit against Lewandowski, who had denounced Fields as "delusional."

"I think I'll pass on getting legal advice from a Trump shill," Fields wrote. "Thanks tho."

Aronberg told reporters that Lewandowki's lawyers earlier this week showed them the draft of an apology to Fields, who wrote Wednesday that she had not received one.

"Had an apology been given at the beginning of all this," Aronberg said, "we could have avoided the whole criminal justice process for this matter."

The incident took place as Trump, surrounded by Secret Service agents and aides, was leaving a news conference at one of his golf resorts.  Video from security cameras shows that Fields approached Trump and touched his arm in what appeared to be an attempt to ask him a question.



Adrienne Ellis, the chief assistant state attorney who investigated the case, said Fields had denied touching Trump.

"That's not what we see captured on video," Ellis said.

Trump, who gave his own account to prosecutors about two weeks ago, recoiled at Fields' approach, and that's when Lewandowski reached for her arm and pulled her away from the candidate, prosecutors said.

"We're not charging him because he was reacting to what he perceived as a potential threat to someone that he is in charge of protecting, so to speak," Ellis said.

Lewandowski lawyer Bradford Cohen of Fort Lauderdale said defense attorneys gave prosecutors video showing the 15 seconds before a video clip previously released by police, along an affidavit from former FBI agent Barton Brown about protocol to protect candidates in crowds.

Twitter: @finneganLAT

Times staff writer Joseph Tanfani contributed to this report.

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