Kellyanne Conway’s alleged 2018 assault, explained

A Maryland woman has been arrested and charged for the alleged altercation in a restaurant.

A Maryland woman has been charged with assault for allegedly attacking White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, adding to the long list of Donald Trump insiders who’ve been physically confronted for their role in the administration — but the first time those public clashes may have legal repercussions.

The alleged assault took place back in October at Uncle Julio’s, a Mexican restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland. Conway says she was there for a birthday party with her young daughter and her friends when an “unhinged” woman confronted her from behind and started shouting.

“I turned around, and the woman had grabbed my hands,” she told CNN on Friday morning. “She was just unhinged. She was out of control. I don’t even know how to explain her to you. She was just — her whole face was terror and anger.”

“She oughta pay for that,” Conway added.

The alleged assailant, 63-year-old Maryland resident Mary Elizabeth Inabinett, said through her lawyer that she was merely exercising her First Amendment rights and denied any physical altercation.

“Ms. Inabinett saw Kellyanne Conway, a public figure, in a public place, and exercised her First Amendment right to express her personal opinions,” Inabinett’s attorney, William Alden McDaniel Jr., said in a statement.

Here’s what’s happened since:

  • Police took Conway’s statement and reviewed a short video that her middle-school-aged daughter took of the encounter, though it’s unclear whether the footage showed a physical altercation.
  • Other witnesses told police that the woman was shouting “Shame on you!” for as long as eight to 10 minutes before she was eventually kicked out of the restaurant, CNN reports.
  • Conway did not press charges, The Washington Post reports, but in November, authorities concluded their investigation by arresting Inabinett and charging her with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct.
  • A trial date was set for March in Maryland state court. At that time, Inabinett will plead not guilty, according to her attorney, who added in a statement that Conway’s version of events will be proven false in court.

The timing of the incident — Oct. 14 — lines up closely with the highly contentious confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh. Christine Blasey Ford testified before Congress weeks earlier, alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two attended high school.

Conway didn’t say in her interview with CNN this week whether her alleged attack was in any way related to the confirmation hearings, which marked a lightning rod moment of Trump’s presidency by connecting a number of viscerally emotional topics, from the #MeToo movement, to reproductive rights, to the lasting shift of the Supreme Court to a conservative majority. The two could have been connected. But it’s equally plausible it was unrelated — this certainly wasn’t the first time that members of Trump’s team have been confronted by members of the public over the president’s political views and actions.

The search for ‘civility’ in protesting the Trump era

Members of Trump’s inner circle are no strangers to public confrontation. Many have learned the hard way during the most controversial and divisive times of Trump’s presidency — amid public outrage over the administration’s child separation policy at the border, or deeply contested Supreme Court hearings — it’s best for prominent White House officials to keep a low profile.

Conway has told stories of being shouted at while grocery shopping. Protesters taped up “WANTED” posters with an image of policy advisor Stephen Miller near his apartment complex. Department of Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen was heckled by demonstrators while dining at a Mexican restaurant in DC. Around that same time, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was politely turned away from a popular restaurant in Virginia after the owner protested her complicity in pursuing Trump’s agenda.

These subtle acts of protest sparked fiery debate last year, centering around the concept of “civility” and whether members of the Trump administration deserved to be accosted or publicly condemned for doing their jobs. But as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp noted at the time, “Voters have a responsibility to confront incivility that threatens democracy rather than to prioritize treating officials super politely.”

Conway’s alleged physical altercation, alongside her daughter, potentially muddies the water on these acts of “impoliteness” as a form of protest during a critical time for American democracy. Now it’s up to a court to decide whether unlike the previous confrontations against Trump officials, this one crosses a line.