The sheriff of a Montana county where Republican candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulted a reporter said Thursday that Gianforte declined law enforcement’s request for a follow-up interview.
“At 5:08 p.m. yesterday, Gallatin County sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of an assault. When deputies arrived, Greg Gianforte cooperated by providing an initial statement,” Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said at a press conference.
He said Gianforte was not under arrest at that time and “left the area” afterward.
“As interviews were being conducted, Greg Gianforte’s attorney contacted our office. It was at this time we communicated our desire to obtain a follow-up interview,” Gootkin said. “This request was later declined and we were asked to direct all further communications to the attorney.”
Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian who said Gianforte attacked him after he asked the candidate a policy question, “did not sustain serious bodily injury” according to Montana’s statute, Gootkin said.
Jacobs said on Wednesday night that Gianforte “bodyslammed” him. The Guardian later published audio of a man who is apparently Gianforte telling Jacobs to speak to his staff, followed by a crashing noise as the man says he is “sick and tired of you guys” and tells Jacobs to “get the hell out of here.”
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s office announced on Wednesday it had “probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.”
Gootkin apologized to reporters for not mentioning during a press conference on Wednesday that he made a campaign contribution to Gianforte in March, and said he does not agree with calls for another agency to handle the investigation.
“The reason it never crossed my mind was that we were busy investigating this incident,” Gootkin said. “The contribution made in March has absolutely nothing to do with my duties and responsibilities as the Gallatin County sheriff or this investigation.”
He said officers only communicated directly with Gianforte during his initial statement before the candidate departed the scene.
“The deputies were busy dealing with the other five people that were there and that’s when Mr. Gianforte left,” Gootkin said.
Asked what will happen if Gianforte is given jail time and nevertheless wins the congressional election, Gootkin replied, “If he is ordered to go to jail by the judge, then I would guess that that judge expects him to go to jail.”
According to reporters on the scene, as Gootkin left the press conference, he ignored a question about whether he voted for Gianforte.
Gootkin ends press conference, doesn't answer ? about whether or not he voted for Gianforte as he walks out. #mtal
— Whitney Bermes (@wabermes) May 25, 2017
Press conference over. As Gootkin was walking out, a reporter asked if he voted for Gianforte. Gootkin did not respond. #MTAL
— Lena Blietz (@LenaBlietz) May 25, 2017