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Montana Candidate Cited for Misdemeanor Assault After Altercation With Reporter

Variety logo Variety 5/25/2017 Ted Johnson
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Greg Gianforte, a Republican candidate seeking a Montana congressional seat in a special election on Thursday, was cited for misdemeanor assault after he allegedly “body slammed” a Guardian reporter who was attempting to ask him a question at a campaign event.

Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for the Guardian, says that Gianforte attacked him and broke his glasses at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday. The Guardian posted audio of the incident, in which Jacobs attempts to ask Greg Gianforte about healthcare, but then there is the sound of a scuffle and Gianforte shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

Several hours later, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that Gianforte was cited after an investigation determined there was probable cause.

“The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault,” Gootkin said in a statement.  “Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017.”

Gianforte is running for Montana’s open congressional seat after Ryan Zinke resigned to become Secretary of the Interior. According to accounts of reporters who were there, he was at the headquarters in Bozeman, Mont., for what was billed as a “meet and greet” event. After the incident, Gianforte left.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs told the Guardian by phone from the back of an ambulance. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

Gianforte’s campaign released a statement that offers a different version of what happened. It claims that as he was giving a separate interview in a private office, and Jacobs “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. 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. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

That version seems to conflict with the tone of the audio, in which Gianforte can be heard yelling, saying “I am sick and tired of you guys” at one point.

A Fox News crew witnessed the incident. Reporter Alicia Acuna wrote that “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 reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”

Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed News, wrote on Twitter that she was nearby and witnessed and heard some of what happened.

“Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) – sounded like Gianforte,” she wrote. “All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”

Jacobs had reported that Gianforte had ties to two index funds that are invested in Russian companies. He is heard on the audio asking about the Congressional Budget Office score on the recently passed House GOP replacement legislation for Obamacare.

The audio of the incident, via the Guardian, is above.

Polls have shown that Gianforte has the edge over his Democratic rival, Rob Quist, in the special election. Democrats have been hoping for a surprise win by Quist to bolster their argument that momentum is swinging in their favor going into next year’s midterm elections.

This is the latest altercation involving a reporter who sought to ask a question of a public official or politician. Last week, a CQ Roll Call reporter said that he was “manhandled” by security guards at the FCC when he attempted to ask one of the commissioners a question. An FCC spokesman said that the agency apologized.

Earlier in May, a West Virginia reporter for Public News Service was arrested when he tried to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

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