WASHINGTON — Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in the special election for Montana’s sole House seat, was charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly body- slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs Wednesday evening.
“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault,” Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said in a press release Thursday. “The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017.”
Gootkin noted that he had donated $250 to Gianforte, but said the contribution “has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”
Fox News reporter Alicia Acun and two employees from her news crew witnessed the incident. She said Jacobs approached Gianforte prior to a BBQ for the candidates’ volunteers, placed a tape recorder near his face and asked Gianforte a question about the new Congressional Budget Office’s score for the American Health Care Act.
Gianforte initially declined to respond and told Jacobs to talk to his press aide. After Jacobs persisted, Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acun said.
Acun said she and her crew then saw the candidate punching Jacobs.
Audio obtained by Jacobs from the incident depicts a loud crashing sound and then Gianforte yelling, “I’m sick and tired of this!”
Jacobs can be heard saying that Gianforte “body-slammed” him and broke his glasses.
Gianforte asked for the Fox crew’s names, but Acun said they were in too much shock to give the reporter their names.
A statement from Gianforte’s campaign disputes the Fox News account and the audio.
“The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave,” the statement from Gianforte spokesperson Shane Scanlon reads. “After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both the ground.”
“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” Scanlon adds.
Acun said that “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
Following the incident, three Montana papers – the Independent Record, The Missoulian and the Billings Gazette – rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte.
As of 10:56 a.m. EDT, Gianforte’s site’s endorsement page still touted the papers’ support.
As of 2:32pm, the endorsements page appeared to have been removed.
President Donald Trump endorsed Gianforte and Vice President Mike Pence as well as Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, traveled to Montana to stump for the candidate.
The incident compounds concerns posed by media advocacy organizations and reporters groups that reporters are currently endangered by the heated political rhetoric of the moment.
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) May 25, 2017
Montana’s special election takes place Thursday and pits Gianforte against Democrat Rob Quist for the seat previously held by Ryan Zinke, who was tapped as Interior Secretary under Trump.
A Gravis Marketing poll conducted among 818 likely Montana voters between May 19 and 21 places Gianforte in the lead at 49-35 percent. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
So far 250,000 of the 699,000 registered voters in the state have already cast their ballots by mail, according to The New York Times.