Montana law enforcement officials have charged GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte with misdemeanor assault following an alleged physical altercation with a reporter Wednesday evening, just hours before voters head to the polls.
Gianforte allegedly slammed Ben Jacobs to the floor at the candidate’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman as The Guardian reporter posed questions about the Republicans’ ObamaCare repeal plan — a charge Gianforte denies.
After a brief investigation, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin issued a statement Wednesday night saying Gianforte had been cited for misdemeanor assault.
“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,” the statement reads. “The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.”
The Guardian released an audio recording of the incident, in which Gianforte initially brushes aside Jacobs’s question about the new Congressional Budget Office score of the House GOP's American Health Care Act, which passed the House earlier in the month.
"We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte says in the recording.
“Yeah, but there’s not going to be time,” Jacobs says. “I’m just curious about it right now.”
Gianforte then asks Jacobs to contact the candidate’s spokesman. Before Jacobs can respond, sounds of an altercation erupt.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte screams. “The last guy who came in here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here!”
“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says. He later posted pictures of the broken glasses from the back of an ambulance.
Gianforte’s office offered a decidedly different account, saying Jacobs encroached on “a separate interview in a private office” and “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face.”
“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,” said spokesman Shane Scanlon.
Yet eyewitness accounts from several Fox News reporters contradict Gianforte’s story.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” said Fox reporter Alicia Acuna.
Acuna and others “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!'" she said.
Democrats pounced on the news, calling on Gianforte to quit the race and for Republicans to condemn his conduct.
“Greg Gianforte must immediately withdraw his candidacy after his alleged violent assault of an innocent journalist,” said Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The group also launched an 11th-hour Facebook ad campaign highlighting the episode in hopes of swaying voters heading to the polls Thursday.
Thursday’s special election pits Gianforte against Democrat Rob Quist in a contest to replace former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is now heading President Trump’s Interior Department. Gianforte is seen as a slight favorite in the race.
Gianforte is expected to appear in court before June 7. He faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail, a $500 fine, or both.
Gootkin, the Gallatin County Sheriff, is a Gianforte supporter, having contributed $250 to the Republican candidate in March — a donation the sheriff acknowledged in his statement. But, he quickly added, “this contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”
This report was updated at 6:18 a.m.
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