A Fox News team in the room when a Guardian reporter said a Montana congressional candidate body-slammed him described a scene that contradicts the account of Greg Gianforte’s press secretary.
Soon after their account was published, the candidate was cited for misdemeanor assault, with the sheriff’s office saying the reporter’s injuries weren’t serious enough to warrant a felony charge.
Gianforte, a software company founder and donor to conservative organizations who lost a race for the governor’s mansion last year, faces singer-songwriter Democrat Rob Quist in a Thursday special election to fill the state’s at-large congressional seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Ben Jacobs, political reporter for the Guardian, was covering a Gianforte meet-and-greet in Bozeman, Mont., on Wednesday night. At about 5 p.m. local time he tweeted, “Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses.”
Audio was then released of Jacobs asking the candidate about the newly released Congressional Budget Office score of the American Health Care Act; the candidate had previously said he’d wait for the score before committing to supporting the AHCA. Gianforte said he’ll talk about it later, and, as it was election eve, Jacobs asked again. Gianforte told the reporter to talk to his press secretary before sounds of a scuffle were heard.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte is heard yelling. “The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”
“Yes, you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs replied.
“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said.
“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs said.
“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte yelled.
Jacobs, who reported the incident to police, told his newspaper while being taken in an ambulance to get checked out that Gianforte “took me to the ground.”
“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,” Jacobs added.
Gianforte’s press secretary, Shane Scanlon, said that as the candidate “was giving a separate interview in a private office,” Jacobs “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”
“Jacobs was asked to leave,” Scanlon continued. “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.”
The Fox News team in the private interview, though, said the incident did not go down as the campaign claimed. Reporter Alicia Acuna, in the room with her field producer and photographer, said they were making small talk before the barbecue and before the interview was scheduled to begin when Jacobs entered the room.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna said. “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,” she added. “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.”
Buzzfeed reporter Alexis Levinson said she was outside the room with the door partially opened, saw Jacobs walk in and “all of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”
“Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) – sounded like Gianforte,” Levinson tweeted, adding that after the incident Gianforte left the event without speaking.
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin told reporters at a press conference that deputies spoke with Gianforte “very briefly” and there was an “active investigation” into an allegation of assault.
In a statement later issued by the sheriff’s office, Gootkin confirmed he contributed $250.00 to Gianforte on March 23. “This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete,” he said.
“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 (MCA 45-5-201),” the statement continued. “The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017.”
The Missoulian newspaper published a late-night rescinding of their earlier Gianforte endorsement.
“Three weeks ago, the Missoulian endorsed Gianforte because we took him at his word that he would set aside his personal beliefs, listen to Montanans and be their voice in the House,” the paper wrote. “…Gianforte violated that pledge when he attacked a reporter for doing his job Wednesday night… There is no doubt that Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the U.S. House of Representatives. He showed Wednesday night that he lacks the experience, brains and abilities to effectively represent Montana in any elected office.”
“And in case critics say this is just fake news from the liberal media, let us repeat one fact again: The eyewitness account of Gianforte’s actions came from a Fox News reporter.”