Speaking at a rally in Missoula, Trump mentioned Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in June 2017 after he body slammed Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, on May 24, 2017, in Bozeman.
"Greg is smart and by the way never wrestle him," Trump joked. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy.”
Trump then made a gesture that simulated a body slam.
Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, criticized the president Friday for praising "a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job."
“This amounts to the celebration of a crime by someone sworn to uphold our laws and an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has solemnly pledged to defend it,” he said in a statement. “We should never shrug at the president cheerleading for a violent act targeting a free and independent news media.”
The Guardian U.S., which employs Jacobs, issued a statement after Trump's speech, The New York Times reported.
"The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it." John Mulholland, the editor of The Guardian U.S., said in the statement. "In the aftermath of the murder of (Washington Post journalist) Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them."
The president did not mention Khashoggi during his speech Thursday, CNN reported.
The reporter was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2. Turkish media reports claim that an audio recording suggests Khashoggi was tortured and killed before being dismembered, CNN reported.