Media groups call for congressional investigation of Gianforte over 'body slam'

Media groups call for congressional investigation of Gianforte over 'body slam'
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Four press freedom advocacy groups filed an ethics complaint on Friday against Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for allegedly assaulting a reporter on the eve of Montana's special election.

The Society of Professional Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Free Press Action Fund and PEN America asked the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate whether Gianforte violated House rules by both assaulting Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, and by issuing a statement defending his conduct that was contradicted by eyewitness accounts and an audio recording.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault last week on the night before he won the special election to fill Montana’s vacant House seat. Jacobs had tried to ask Gianforte his opinion on the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House GOP’s legislation to partially repeal and replace ObamaCare.

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Gianforte allegedly then grabbed Jacobs, breaking his glasses in the process, and slammed him to the ground.

Gianforte isn’t expected to be sworn in as a member of the House until later this month. 

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan joins board of Fox Corporation Bottom Line Paul Ryan says Trump will win reelection because of 'record of accomplishment' MORE (R-Wis.), said that Gianforte will be sworn in once the House receives an election certification from the state of Montana.

The election certification isn’t expected to be sent to the House until after the state’s canvass of the election results on June 15.

Gianforte is expected to appear in court by June 7.

House rules state that members and staff must conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”

“Based on past precedent, physical assaults by members of Congress clearly do not reflect ‘creditably’ on the House,” the ethics complaint to OCE reads. 

“Further, we would submit that Rep. Gianforte’s assault of reporter Ben Jacobs is even more troubling as a matter of law, House rules and, indeed, democratic norms, given that the ‘body slam’ came in response to a question by Jacobs to Gianforte on a matter clearly in the public interest.”

The press freedom groups also wrote to the House Ethics Committee, noting that if a member of the House is charged with a crime, the committee is obligated to either begin an investigation or submit a report to the House on why did is not within 30 days.

"The requirement in the rules for swift action is particularly appropriate in this case given the highly public and very troubling nature of Rep. Gianforte’s attack on reporter Ben Jacobs, and its relation to a recent pattern of escalating rhetoric and attacks on American journalists," they wrote.

The Ethics Committee and OCE have jurisdiction over current House members, but not necessarily candidates. Since the alleged altercation took place before Gianforte became a member of the House, it's unlikely either the committee or OCE would take up an investigation.

House members are prohibited from engaging in committee activities or voting if they have been convicted of a felony. But Gianforte has not been convicted and was only charged with a misdemeanor. 

Gianforte could face up to six months in prison or a $500 fine, or both.

Gianforte's campaign initially issued a statement claiming that he asked Jacobs to lower his recorder — which is not heard in the audio — and tried to cast blame on "aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist."

He eventually apologized to Jacobs the next day after winning the special election.

"I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I'm sorry," Gianforte said during his victory rally. "I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that I am sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs."