Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate to fill the open U.S. House seat in Montana, was charged with misdemeanor assault on Wednesday night after he allegedly body-slammed a reporter.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s office announced the charge in a statement on Wednesday night and said that Gianforte will have to appear in court by June 7.
A reporter for The Guardian, Ben Jacobs, said on Wednesday night that Gianforte “body-slammed” him after he asked the candidate a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s new analysis of the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
In audio of the incident published by The Guardian, a man who is apparently Gianforte can be heard telling Jacobs to ask him at another time and to speak with someone on his staff about his question. A rustling noise can then be heard on the recording, followed by Gianforte apparently saying, “I’m a sick and tired of you guys,” and telling Jacobs to “get the hell out of here.”
“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs can then be heard saying on the recording.
In a Wednesday night statement, Gianforte’s campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon contradicted Jacobs’ account of the incident, claiming that Jacobs “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face.”
“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,” Scanlon continued.
However, an account from a Fox News reporter who was in the room with Jacobs and Gianforte aligns with Jacobs’ description of the incident, not with that of the Gianforte campaign.
Fox News’ Alicia Acuna said that Jacobs came into the room where a Fox News crew was preparing for an interview with Gianforte and asked the Republican candidate about the Republican health care bill. Acuna said that Gianforte told Jacobs he would answer later and that Jacobs persisted in asking his question. Acuna said that Ginaforte then grabbed Jacobs by the neck and pushed him to the ground, punching the reporter. She wrote:
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!”
Acuna said that Jacobs was not acting in an aggressive manner:
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 incident, three Montana newspapers — the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette, and the Helena Independent Record — pulled their endorsements of Gianforte, citing his alleged assault of a reporter.
The incident occurred the night before the election in which Gianforte will face off against Democrat Rob Quist. It’s unclear how much the alleged assault will impact the race given the number of absentee ballots that have already been submitted. More than half the number of ballots projected to be submitted in the race had already been submitted by Wednesday night, per the New York Times.
Quist declined to comment on the incident Wednesday night.
“That’s really not for me to talk about. I think that’s more a matter for law enforcement,” he told reporters when asked about the incident, per the New York Times.
But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called on Gianforte to pull out of the race.
“Greg Gianforte must immediately withdraw his candidacy after his alleged violent assault of an innocent journalist. Further, Speaker Ryan and the National Republican Campaign Committee should not waste another minute before publicly denouncing their candidate and apologizing for the millions of dollars they spent on his behalf,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement Wednesday night.