GOP Congressional candidate assaults Guardian U.S. reporter
Greg Gianforte, the Republican nominee in a special congressional race in Montana, physically assaulted Guardian U.S. reporter Ben Jacobs while Jacobs tried to interview him at his campaign headquarters in Bozeman, MT. A crew of Fox News journalists who witnessed the attack described it as brutal and unprovoked:
At that point, 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!"
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. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. 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.
To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies.
Following the attack, which left Jacobs’ glasses broken, police arrived to interview witnesses and an ambulance took Jacobs to the hospital, where he got an X-ray on his elbow. A few hours later, Gallatin county sheriff Brian Gootkin announced that Gianforte had been cited for misdemeanor assault.
“The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault,” Gootkin said in a statement.
Responding to reports that he had donated $250 to Gianforte’s campaign in March, Gootkin confirmed that he had made the donation but said that “this contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”
Gianforte’s campaign initially released a statement claiming that Jacobs was to blame for the incident.
After winning the election on May 25, Gianforte publicly apologized to Jacobs during his victory speech.
On June 7, as part of a settlement with Jacobs, Gianforte pledged to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists — which used the money to help fund the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker — and wrote a lengthy apology to Jacobs:
I write to express my sincere apology for my conduct on the evening of May 24. My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. As both a candidate for office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard.
Notwithstanding anyone's statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you. I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.
I understand the critical role that journalists and the media play in our society. Protections afforded to the press through the Constitution are fundamental to who we are as a nation and the way government is accountable to the people I acknowledge that the media have am obligation to seek information. I also know that civility in our public discourse is central to a productive dialogue on issues. I had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy. You were doing your job.
Greg Gianforte's letter of apology to Ben Jacobs
On June 12, Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. He was sentenced to community service and anger management classes, but did not face any jail time.
Gianforte was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives on June 21 and has already filed for re-election in 2018.
Jacobs said in a statement that Gianforte still refuses to meet with him for an on-the-record interview, which has caused him to doubt the sincerity of Gianforte’s apology.
From the beginning, I have tried to turn Congressman Gianforte’s assault against me into something positive. I have not profited off a lawsuit or taken advantage of the attention that has been thrust upon me. Instead, I hoped to use this incident as a positive opportunity to promote civil discourse as well as the importance of the freedom of the press. To that end, I forgave Congressman Gianforte for his unprovoked attack and his slanderous statement afterwards in hopes that this behavior was an aberration. Instead, I have become increasingly convinced that those actions were a display of his true character.
In refusing to do the promised on-the-record interview with me, Congressman Gianforte continues his pattern of avoiding responsibility for his actions and refusing to live up to the statements made in what I had thought was a sincere apology. He has refused to explain why he slandered me, he unsuccessfully tried to avoid pleading guilty to a physical attack against me and he also unsuccessfully fought a legal battle to avoid the mild inconvenience of having a mugshot taken. I can at least take some minor consolation that in the past two months, his efforts to avoid answering any questions from me have been non-violent.
I will continue to strive to turn this incident into something positive. Civil discourse and press freedoms are non-partisan issues and should form the basic foundation of our political system and society. I regret that Congressman Gianforte doesn’t appear to share these values. When the Congressman is ready to schedule an on-the-record interview with me, I welcome hearing from him. Otherwise, should we meet in the halls of the Capitol, I hope I can approach him without fear of physical assault.
Newly-released documents related to the case and an audio recording of an interview between a police sergeant and Gianforte suggest that the congressman initially tried to portray Jacobs as the aggressor in the incident.
“[Jacobs] grabbed my wrist,” Gianforte told the police sergeant investigating the incident, according to the Bozeman Daily Herald, which reviewed an audio recording of the interview. “He spun and we ended up on the floor. So he pulled me down on top of him.”
Gianforte’s description of the incident was contradicted by Jacobs and multiple eyewitnesses, and Gianforte said in a statement on June 8 that he accepted full responsibility for assaulting Jacobs.