- Associated Press - Monday, March 19, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) - An operative for a political committee that supports Democrats has been charged with assault following a confrontation with a staffer for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke outside a congressional hearing.

Capitol Police charged Wilfred M. Stark, 49, of Falls Church, Virginia, with simple assault following a confrontation with Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke. Stark works for American Bridge 21st Century, a group that supports Democratic candidates.

According to a police report, Stark approached Zinke after a House hearing Thursday and started yelling at him. Zinke continued walking out of the hearing room at the Longworth House Office Building and Stark “used his full body to push” Swift as she tried to leave the room, the report said.

Swift told police that Stark had been removed from an elevator two days earlier as he tried to force his way onto an elevator with Zinke and his staff. Swift said she decided to press charges to help obtain a “stay-away order” against Stark, the report said.

In a statement Monday, Swift called the incident “terrifying” and thanked police for their quick response.

“He is a big guy. He came up behind me fast, aggressive and very physical,” Swift said. “Who knows what this lunatic was thinking?”

Swift, who also served as Zinke’s press secretary when he represented Montana in Congress, said that since joining the Trump administration a year ago, she has received harassing and threatening tweets, emails, phone calls and letters.

“But being physically targeted and assaulted brings it to another level,” she said. “This violent action only strengthens my desire to serve my president and my country.”

“Democrats claim to support women but they allow their operatives to assault women,” she added. “They need to immediately denounce this type of violent behavior.”

American Bridge said in a statement Monday that Stark “adamantly denies” the allegations. “We are gathering all the facts and information surrounding this event,” the statement said.

Stark was also arrested in October and charged with creating a disturbance during a parade in suburban Virginia. Stark was videotaping GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie for ShareBlue Media, an affiliate of American Bridge. He was found not guilty of resisting arrest, but convicted of disorderly conduct, the Fairfax County, Virginia, Times reported.

Stark faces a March 30 hearing in D.C. Superior Court in the current case.

American Bridge, which says it is “committed to holding Republicans accountable,” first noted an Interior Department contract worth nearly $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in Zinke’s office.

Zinke said at Thursday’s hearing that he has negotiated a significantly lower price for the project by “manipulating” contract terms to lower the cost to about $75,000. He did not provide details.

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