Trump takes a step toward supporting violence by supporters, says he may pay legal fees – Los Angeles Times

Donald Trump took a step toward supporting violent action by a supporter Sunday, saying that he had instructed his attorneys to look into paying the legal bills for a man charged last week with punching a protester who was being led out of a rally. 

The statement of potential financial support, which Trump made on NBC’s “Meet the Press” added a new and remarkable dimension to his presidential campaign’s flirtation with violence and again drew condemnation from a wide spectrum of politicians.

Trump continued to blame the media and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for riling up protesters. At a boisterous rally in central Illinois, he threatened to send his own protesters to disrupt Sanders’ rallies in retaliation. Sanders denied directing supporters to disrupt Trump rallies, and no evidence has suggested otherwise.

At the same time, Trump justified his prior statements that he would pay legal fees for supporters who roughed up protesters, arguing that he was being threatened and needed protection.

“If you get hit in the face with a tomato, let me tell you, with somebody with a strong arm, at least, let me tell you, it can be very damaging,” Trump said on NBC. As for the legal fees, he said, “I’ve actually instructed my people to look into it.” 

The protester who was punched was shouting and raised his middle finger, but is not alleged to have threatened anyone before being hit.

The latest volleys came as establishment Republicans near a crucial moment in their effort to derail the front-runner before he clinches the presidential nomination. Five states vote Tuesday, including the home states of Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both of which host winner-take-all Republican primaries that would probably eliminate the home-state candidates if they lose.

Two new polls released on Sunday continued to show Trump with a wide lead in Florida over Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. In Ohio, the polls indicated a close race between Trump and Kasich, with Cruz in third place. Cruz was potentially in position to win in Illinois, which also votes on Tuesday, the polls showed.

Though many Republicans have urged a state-by-state strategy of trying to stop Trump as a team effort, only Rubio has taken up the call directly, with his campaign suggesting in recent days that his supporters in Ohio should throw their votes to Kasich to deny Trump the state’s delegates.

Cruz, who is second in delegates and in many national polls, flatly rejected that strategy on Sunday, insisting he could beat Trump one-on-one.

“No. We’re not engaged in this delegate-denial strategy that came out of the Washington establishment because they have dreams of a brokered convention, dropping their favorite Washington candidate in to win,” he said on NBC. “That would be a disaster. The people would revolt.”

Kasich also avoided putting his name behind the tactic, saying he would not tell Florida supporters to vote for Rubio.

“My people aren’t like robots — you know, go do this, go do that,” Kasich said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Trump clearly now sees Kasich as a bigger threat than Rubio. During a rally in Bloomington, Ill., he knocked Ohio for its real estate taxes and criticized Kasich extensively for his support of trade deals that Trump said were hurting workers.

He also went after Kasich’s assertion that he was not watching Trump’s rallies or paying much attention to the news coverage of them.

“I don’t want a guy that watches the Golf Channel and nothing else,” Trump said.

But Trump revealed another aspect of his own dependence on unverified news sources when he repeated that a man who rushed the stage at one of his events in Ohio on Saturday had ties to the Islamic State militant group. Even when told numerous times that the video he had shared with supporters to back that claim had been revealed as doctored, Trump did not back down.

“All I know is what’s on the Internet,” he said.

Trump continued to lash out at the media. During his Bloomington rally, he blamed journalists for giving outsize coverage to the violent aspects of his campaign. The focus, he said had been on one protester who was “vicious, swinging.”

“Guess what happened?” Trump said. “Our people started swinging back.”

Trump repeatedly returned to that theme, talking about his relationship to the violence as both over-hyped and, at the same time, justified.

“Sometimes we talk a little bit tough,” he said. “When I see somebody out swinging his fists, I say ‘Get ‘em the hell out of here.’ We’re a little rough.”

“They hate to hear that,” he said, referring to the media. “’Why did you act so viciously toward that young person that was really protesting.’ See he wasn’t protesting. He was swinging. He was vicious. And you know what? They took him out. That was OK that day.”

Trump also suggested that if his supporters did attempt to disrupt a Sanders rally, or one for Hillary Clinton, they would be judged differently than the protesters who have stirred up his rallies.

“You go to one of these rallies? Oh, you’ll be in trouble,” he said. “They’ll lock you up for the rest of your life. They’ll give you the electric chair.”

Trump, who stood in front of his private airplane at an airfield, relied on protesters as a prop, as he often does, yelling “get ‘em out” several times when they disrupted his speech.

“We’re not provoking. We all want peace,” he insisted at one point. “This group, is that true or what? We don’t want trouble?”

Just as the crowd shouted “noooo,” he stirred them up again, reminding them of all the reasons they have to be angry.

“With all of that being said, we’re being disenfranchised so much in this country,” he said.

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