Greg Gianforte, a Republican running for the open House seat in Montana, reportedly “body slammed” a journalist the day before the state’s special election, according to eyewitness accounts and audio posted by the reporter.
Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for the Guardian, a British newspaper, tweeted Wednesday evening about the incident.
Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017
The Guardian later posted audio of the incident, in which Jacobs appears to calmly ask Gianforte about the new Congressional Budget Office score of the House health care legislation. The incident quickly escalates from there, judging by the audio, which lasts for 45 seconds.
Gianforte responded in his own statement, portraying Jacobs as the aggressor who intruded on a private interview without permission.
Another reporter on the scene corroborated some of Jacobs’s account.
All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben's feet fly in the air as he hit the floor— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017
Later on Wednesday night, reporters from Fox News — who were about to interview Gianforte when the altercation occurred — provided another first-person account that seemed to contradict the candidate’s version of events (emphasis mine):
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of "I'm sick and tired of this!"
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies.
The Montana special election, in which Gianforte is facing Democratic folk singer Rob Quist, is Thursday. Gianforte is running to replace Republican Ryan Zinke, who was appointed to be President Trump’s interior secretary. Gianforte has been considered a slight favorite; Cook Political Report rates the race Lean Republican.
A few political analysts on Twitter noted that many ballots have already been cast, because Montanans can vote by mail.