Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault Wednesday night after allegedly slamming reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian to the ground at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana.
The Gallatin County (Montana) Sheriff’s Office cited Gianforte late Wednesday night on the eve of a special election. Sheriff Brian Gootkin, a campaign contributor to Gianforte, announced the decision to cite Gianforte following multiple interviews and a quick investigation.
Gianforte could face six months in county jail, a fine of up to $500 or both if convicted.
Jacobs said Gianforte “body slammed me and broke my glasses” in a tweet he sent shortly after 7 p.m. in Montana. An eyewitness, Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, corroborated Jacobs’ account and disputed the account given in a statement by Gianforte’s campaign.
Acuna was in the room during the incident. She said, in a first-person story posted on FoxNews.com, that Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” Gianforte then “began punching the man, as he moved on top of the reporter,” Acuna said.
The Guardian, Jacobs’ publication, posted audio of the incident on its website. In the brief audio, Jacobs asked twice about Gianforte’s reaction to the CBO score on the Republicans’ health care bill — and then there was a loud crash.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with The Guardian?” Gianforte said.
“Yes and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs replied.
“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said.
“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs replied.
“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte said.
“You’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d also like to call the police,” Jacobs said. “Can I get you guys’ names?”
Acuna said she and two co-workers, who were also in the room, were too stunned to reply to Jacobs at that point.
An aide then told Jacobs he had to leave.
Acuna said that after Jacobs left “Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized.”
The Gianforte campaign claimed that Jacobs initiated the contact — and that both men went to the ground.
“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, 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. 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 to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” Shane Scanlon said in the statement.
In Acuna’s account, she wrote that “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist are vying to replace new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a special election for Montana’s lone House seat.
Gianforte lost his 2016 race for Montana governor to Democrat Steve Bullock. Bullock got 50.2 percent of the vote, and Gianforte earned 46.4 percent in November.
The DCCC called on Gianforte to drop out of the race.
“Greg Gianforte must immediately withdraw his candidacy after his alleged violent assault of an innocent journalist. Further, Speaker Ryan and the National Republican Campaign Committee should not waste another minute before publicly denouncing their candidate and apologizing for the millions of dollars they spent on his behalf,” the DCCC said in a statement released Wednesday night.
Jacobs wrote an article last month that showed Gianforte has financial ties to US-sanctioned Russian companies.
Gootkin donated $250 to Gianforte’s campaign in March. Gootkin said the contribution “has nothing to do with our investigation.” He said the nature of Jacobs’ injuries “did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.”
Gianforte must appear in court before June 7.
Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed, posted her account of the incident on her Twitter page. She was outside of the room, but could see some of what happened.