Trump was speaking at a rally in Missoula, Mont., where the president was campaigning for Gianforte and Matt Rosendale, a Republican challenger to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana).
“Greg is smart. By the way, never wrestle him. Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy,” Trump said, to cheers from the crowd.
“I shouldn’t say that. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Trump said to Gianforte.
Gianforte plead guilty to a charge of misdemeanor assault of Ben Jacobs, political reporter for The Guardian, as he covered a Montana special election in May 2017. Even though the incident drew considerable attention, Gianforte defeated his Democratic opponent the next day.
Trump recalled that he was in Rome at the time of the incident, and he shared his initial thoughts: “This was terrible. He’s going to lose the election.”
“Then I said, ‘Well wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him, and it did.'”
Trump made the comments in a speech that otherwise attacked Democrats for “mob” rule, and characterized himself as the candidate of “law and order.”
It also came amid international furor over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey earlier this month. Turkish authorities say that he was murdered in the consulate, and his apparent grisly killing has turned attention to the U.S. relationship to the regime of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Katherine Viner, editor in chief of Guardian News and Media, wrote on Twitter that Trump’s remarks were “shocking and chilling, especially in light of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”