Republican House candidate Greg Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly body slamming a reporter on the eve of Montana’s closely watched special election.
Gianforte was accused of attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs at a local campaign barbecue over questions about the Republicans’ House health care bill, breaking his glasses and forcing him to go to the hospital to have his elbow X-rayed, according to multiple reports.
With hours until the end of a months-long campaign, law enforcement told Gianforte that he would be scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7.
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 American Health Care Act, passed by the House on May 4. Several reporters from Fox News who had been in the room then published a first-person account that seemed to contradict Gianforte’s story:
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.
A few hours later, at around 10 pm Western, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office announced that a criminal summons on the misdemeanor count had been issued to Gianforte. They also said that the “nature of the injuries” did not rise to felony charges.
In the statement, Galltin Sheriff Brian M. Gootkin acknowledged that he’d contributed $250 to Gianforte’s campaign. “After the press conference it was brought to my attention that people were commenting on a contribution that I made to the Gianforte campaign,” the sheriff’s statement said. “This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”
The sheriff’s statement appeared to contradict one released by the candidate himself Wednesday night in which Gianforte accused Jacobs of the attack. Gianforte’s campaign alleged that the “liberal journalist” had “grabbed Greg’s wrist” before “pushing them both to the ground.”
To make a horrible situation even worse for Gianforte: Three of Montana’s most prominent newspapers all withdrew their endorsements for him after the assault. He had touted all three on the campaign trail in his final push against banjo-playing Democrat Rob Quist earlier that day.
It may not matter. Gianforte was leading by at least 6 points heading into Election Day, at least according to one poll, and nearly two-third of ballots had already been cast because of the state’s early voting rules.
- Montana’s special election — with a wild, 11th-hour twist — explained
- Behind the Montana special election “body slam” story is an important point about the AHCA
- The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin interviewed Jacobs late last night from the hospital
- A piece by Vox’s Andrew Prokop this April about the early lessons from the special elections.