Washington CNN  — 

Sen. Patrick Leahy on Friday criticized President Donald Trump for jokes he made at a rally Thursday night about Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte’s assault of a journalist.

“I think it’s terrible,” the Vermont Democrat told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “Wolf.” “I cannot imagine any president – I’ve been here since President Ford – I’ve been here with Republicans and Democrats. I cannot imagine any president in the United States saying anything so irresponsible.”

In praising Gianforte at a rally in Montana Thursday, Trump made reference to a 2017 incident wherein Gianforte drew national attention after assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking him a question a day before the election. He later apologized for the incident and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.

“But Greg is smart,” Trump said. “And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never.”

“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of … He was my guy,” he continued and made a gesture mimicking a body slam.

Trump has made his critiques of the press a central part of his political persona. Leahy said Friday the barrage of attacks against journalists isn’t healthy for the country.

“We should be the beacon of freedoms. It demeans the United States, it demeans our Constitution and it’s wrong,” he said. “We are different than dictatorships and totalitarian governments because we have a free press and every president – Republican or Democrat – should be defending and supporting our free press even when it criticizes him.”