Donald Trump, the US president, has come under fire after he praised a Republican congressman for body-slamming a journalist.
"Any guy that can do a body slam – he’s my kind of guy," Mr Trump said to cheers and laughter at a rally in the state. "He’s a great guy, tough cookie."
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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Guardian newspaper have called on the US president to apologise.
Representative Greg Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for an attack on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, who had asked the politician a question at a campaign event.
The attack came a day before Mr Gianforte won a 2017 special election to serve in the House of Representatives.
In his first public comments on the incident, Mr Trump lauded the attack at a campaign rally for the Congressman in Missoula, Montana on Thursday.
The president said he was in Rome with other world leaders last year when he heard about what had happened.
"And I said, oh, this is terrible. He’s going to lose the election," Mr Trump recalled. "And then I said, well, wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him. And it did."
The timing of the president’s remarks is unusual – it comes amid an international furore over the apparent assassination of a Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.
Earlier on Thursday Mr Trump said that he believed Mr Khashoggi was dead and warned Saudi Arabia of "very severe" consequences if it is found to have killed him.
In the case of Mr Gianforte, eye witnesses including members of a Fox News crew said the politician became enraged when Mr Jacobs asked him a question about health care. He grabbed the reporter by the neck with both hands before body-slamming him, throwing him to the ground and punching him, according to Fox News reporters.
Mr Gianforte initially misled investigators about what had happened, falsely claiming that Mr Jacobs had grabbed him by the wrist and pulled both of them to the floor, according to documents released under a court order.
Mr Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in June 2017 and said in an apology letter that he alone was responsible for the attack. He was sentenced to four days in jail as a misdemeanour but this was later changed to 40 hours of community service.
He also paid a $385 fine, completed 20 hours of anger management counseling and donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
WATCH: During Montana rally, President Trump references Rep. Greg Gianforte's assault of reporter Ben Jacobs: "Any guy that can do a body slam … he's my guy." pic.twitter.com/1bupNPtOzg
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 19, 2018
Mr Gianforte, who attended the rally with the president, is up for re-election in November and faces former state legislator Kathleen Williams.
John Mulholland, the Guardian US editor, said in a statement: “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."
Mr Mulholland added that it “it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists … [we hope] that the president will see fit to apologise for them.”