Watch CBSN Live

Trump credits campaign manager's "spirit" after tussle

Trump's campaign manager in altercation with ... 05:44

After Saturday night's violent turn at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Tucson, Arizona, the GOP front-runner is standing by his campaign staff, pointing his finger instead at protesters he claimed were "professional agitators."

"We don't condone violence," Trump told ABC News in a phone interview Sunday. " And we have very little violence -- very, very little violence -- at the rallies."

Early on Saturday, while Trump's campaign held an event in Fountain Hills, Arizona, pro-immigration rights activists shut down a main highway leading to the rally. According to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who provided security for the Trump event, at least three protesters were arrested for the disruption.

"They're really stopping our First Amendment rights," Trump said of the demonstrators. "They blocked a road, they put their cars in front of a road. We had thousands and thousands of people wanting to come. They were delayed for an hour because of these protesters."

He added: "At what point do people blame the protesters? These are people that are profit agitators...These are professional agitators and I think that somebody should say that when a road is blocked going into the event so that people have to wait sometimes hours to get in, I think that's very fair and there should be blame there, too."

In a tweet early Sunday morning, Trump reiterated those sentiments:

Late Saturday, at another event in Tucson, more scuffles erupted after a man, accompanied by a woman wearing Ku Klux Klan headgear, disrupted the rally. He was punched by another protester, while being escorted out of the venue.

Trump campaign manager involved in Arizona pr... 00:44

Another tussle in the Tucson crowd involved Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, who was captured on camera entering a pocket of protesters in the stands.

CBS News' video shows a member of Trump's private security detail grabbing one of the protester by his shirt. Lewandowski, who stood beside the security guard, appeared to seize at the protester's shirt collar as well.

Trump laid at least part of the blame at the feet of the demonstrators.

"When signs are put up, lifted up with tremendous profanity on them -- I mean the worst profanity -- and you have television cameras all over the place and people see these signs, I think maybe those people have some blame and should suffer some blame," he told ABC. Of Lewandowski, he added that his campaign manager "didn't touch" the protester.

"I give him credit for having spirit," Trump said. "He wanted them to take down those horrible profanity-laced signs."

This is not the first reportedly rough encounter Lewandowski has had while on the campaign trail. Earlier this month, the campaign chief drew criticism after former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields claimed he had manhandled her at a press conference. The incident led to major drama at the conservative website.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski at a rally at the Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio March 12, 2016. REUTERS/William Philpott

Some in the Republican Party have chastised the Trump campaign for placing themselves at the center of the violence.

"Everyone agrees getting involved in confrontations -- violence is not the answer," Republican National Committee chair Reince Preibus said Sunday on CNN. "Getting involved is not the answer. I think you leave these things up to the professionals."

"It's certainly not something we would condone as far as the continuation of violence," Preibus added. "When people take matters into their own hands it just obviously doesn't work."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue