A “protective bubble” around Donald Trump also helped shield his campaign manager from a misdemeanor battery charge, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said Thursday in explaining his office’s decision not to prosecute Corey Lewandowski.
Lewandowski’s grab of reporter Michelle Fields’ arm following a March 8 event at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter led Jupiter police to charge Lewandowski with simple battery.
Aronberg said Thursday he agreed that police had probable cause to charge Lewandowski. But he said the evidence was “not strong enough to meet the legal burden of a reasonable likelihood of conviction. It is unethical for us to file cases when we believe there is not a good faith basis to proceed.”
Aronberg and prosecutors reached their decision after talking to Fields, Lewandowski’s attorney and the lead Jupiter detective on the case and after reviewing videotape from the ballroom where the incident occurred.
Prosecutors also spoke to Trump on a conference call.
“Mr. Trump did reach out to this office,” Aronberg told reporters at an afternoon news conference. “He gave his version of the facts and his opinion of the case and then urged us to do the right thing…I can tell you the conversation we had with Mr. Trump had no bearing upon our final decision in this case.”
What did appear to have some bearing was an affidavit from a former FBI agent that was supplied to prosecutors by Lewandowski attorney Scott Richardson. The former agent, Barton Brown, described a “protective bubble” that Secret Service agents form around a candidate and said it is not unusual for a candidate’s top staffers to assist in making sure the bubble is not compromised.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis, in a three-page memo explaining the decision not to prosecute Lewandowski, cited Brown’s affidavit and said a review of video showed that Fields entered the “protective bubble” around Trump and “brushed or touched” the Republican presidential front runner’s arm.
When Trump reacted by pulling his arm back and away from her, Ellis’s memo says, “this reaction could have reasonably led Mr. Lewandowski…to legitimately believe that Ms. Fields was making unwanted physical contact with Mr. Trump, which caused Mr. Lewandowski to react by pulling her away.”
Lewandowski initially called Fields “delusional” and claimed he never touched her. And a Secret Service agent directly behind Trump “appeared to show no concern over her actions,” Ellis noted.
“While these factors might weigh against the claim that his actions were justified in defense of Mr. Trump, they do not outweigh the reasonable hypothesis of innocence based on the real time facts and circumstances recorded on the video,” Ellis’ memo says.
Aronberg said the case was given the same review and analysis that any misdemeanor battery case would receive.
“It was just like any other case. I do acknowledge there was international attention to this case which doesn’t exist in just about any other simple battery case,” Aronberg said.
Aronberg and Ellis said it is not unusual for their office to decline to prosecute a misdemeanor battery case after a police department files charges.
“It’s not that uncommon,” Aronberg said. Asked to quantify, he said, “It’s far from a majority. It’s the clear minority of cases.”
Aronberg said he spoke to Fields on Thursday.
“It was clear to us she was disappointed by the decision…She wanted a prosecution to go forward,” Aronberg said.
Fields, who has occasionally commented on the case on her Twitter account, did not tweet about it Thursday as of 6 p.m.
On Wednesday night, when news first broke that prosecutors would not charge Lewandowski, Fields said she had not been informed of the decision. Fields also tweeted that Aronberg’s office had asked two weeks ago “if I’d be ok with an apology from Corey. I said ya but haven’t heard back about it.”
Aronberg said the possibility of Lewandowski apologizing to Fields was discussed with Lewandowski’s attorneys.
“There was no deal where we’re going to drop charges in exchange for an apology but as I said earlier, in a case like this we do encourage an apology. We think it’s a good idea and I think that had an apology been given at the beginning of all this we could have avoided the whole criminal justice process for this matter,” Aronberg said.
Later, Aronberg said Lewandowski’s attorneys “showed me a draft of an apology…It was a short apology and it’s up to them to reach out to Ms. Fields and send it to her.”
Richardson, however, said no apology letter was given to Aronberg’s office.
“I think apologies in a case like this are encouraged but no apology letter was sent, and whether one gets sent now is up to Mr. Lewandowski,” Richardson said.
Trump’s campaign said Lewandowski is “gratified by the decision to drop the misdemeanor charge and appreciates the thoughtful consideration and professionalism by the Palm Beach State Attorney and his staff who carefully reviewed this matter, as well as Mr. Trump’s loyalty and the support of his colleagues and family during this time. The matter is now concluded.”
Aronberg is a Democrat who donated $1,000 to Hillary Clinton and serves on her “Florida Leadership Council.” He also attended Harvard Law School at the same time as Trump Republican rival Ted Cruz and said the two shared a bathroom one year.
“I have met Mr. Trump on a few occasions. I’ve been to Mar-a-Lago. The last time I was there there were 800 others there so it’s not quite a private setting,” Aronberg added.
“The fact that I have a relationship with several of the people that are running for president has no bearing upon our decision in this case,” Aronberg said. “Our decision was made solely on the facts, solely on the evidence and solely on the law.”
Staff writers Jane Musgrave and Daphne Duret contributed to this story.