Greg Gianforte, the GOP candidate for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat, has been cited for misdemeanor assault on election day after a journalist alleged he was “body slammed” by him.
The Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs claimed that Gianforte shoved him to the ground, causing his glasses to break, after he asked the candidate a question about health care at the campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana, on Wednesday.
“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs told The Guardian from the back of an ambulance. “I think he wailed on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”
A Fox News reporter witnessed the chaotic scene, writing that “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. [We] watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”
In addition, Jacobs caught the entire incident on audio recording.
The incident has brought even more attention to a special election that already had a national profile. Democrat Rob Quist had raised $6 million and some polls showed him within striking distance of Gianforte, despite Montanans voting for Donald Trump by more than 20 percentage points in November.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, at a news conference in Washington on Thursday, condemned Gianforte’s behavior—”There is no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press or just between human beings … I think he should apologize,” Ryan said—but side-stepped the question of whether House Republicans will admit Gianoforte into their caucus should he win the seat vacated by Republican Ryan Zinke after he was picked by President Trump to be Interior Secretary.
Shane Scanlon, Gianforte’s spokesperson, issued a statement saying that Jacobs “entered the [campaign] office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions.”
“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face,” he continued. “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.”
After Gianforte tried to dodge a question by the journalist, a crash can be heard as the U.S. House candidate yells, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.”
Sheriff Brian Gootkin announced in a press conference Wednesday night that after conducting an investigation and interviews, “there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.”
He added that “the nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.”
Gianforte is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court before June 7.
Gootkin also confirmed that he had donated $250 to Gianforte’s campaign in March but said it had “nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”