The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”
Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire running for the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.
“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “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.”
If that weren’t despicable enough, Gianforte’s campaign is now trying to blame Jacobs — the victim of Gianforte’s assault — for the crime.
A statement by campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon blamed Jacobs for the altercation, saying that he “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions”.
“Jacobs was asked to leave,” the statement reads. “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.”
Unfortunately for Gianforte and Scanlon, a Fox crew was in the room, witnessed the assault, and corroborates Ben Jacobs’ account of being body slammed.
Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey witnessed the incident, according to an account published by foxnews.com. After Jacobs asked Gianforte his question, Acuna wrote, “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 man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’ … 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.”
Despite the fact that there is an audio recording of the assault along with eyewitness accounts, Gianforte has not yet been arrested.
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said witnesses are still being interviewed, including Jacobs. Investigators have not yet formally interviewed Gianforte, though he spoke to deputies at the scene.
Gootkin added his office has retrieved the audio recording from Jacobs and has been in contact with Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert. Gianforte was not arrested, and no charges were filed.
The sheriff said charges were not filed at the scene because investigators didn’t have enough information at the time. He said the detective division is treating the case like any other investigation.
The Chronicle’s story doesn’t mention that Gootkin is a donor to Gianforte. Perhaps that explains his reluctance to make an arrest. He can’t claim his deputies still don’t have the evidence needed to show that Gianforte committed a crime.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Gianforte has demonstrated a hostility to the mass media. From the closing passages of the Chronicle’s report:
According to the Ravalli Republic, at a campaign event in Hamilton in April, a man in the audience asked Gianforte “how can we rein in the news media?” The man then looked at the Republic reporter and “raised his hands as if he would like to wing his neck,” the newspaper reported. In response, Gianforte said:
“It seems like there is more of us than there is of him. I don’t have a simple solution for you. I will say that doing town hall meetings and getting out and visiting with people is very important.”
Gianforte happens to be a multimillionaire with Russian holdings — no wonder Donald Trump and his family are enamored with him.
Tomorrow is the deadline to vote in Montana’s special election to choose a successor to Ryan Zinke, who was tapped by Donald Trump to join his regime as Interior Secretary. Montana voted overwhelmingly for Trump last November, but it has a history of electing Democratic governors and U.S. Senators despite supporting Republican presidential nominees.
Democrats are fielding Rob Quist, a charismatic musician with deep Montana roots who has been hammering Gianforte for his support of Trumpcuts/Ryancuts.
Quist’s campaign has declined to make a statement regarding Gianforte’s assault of Jacobs, preferring to focus on making its closing argument to voters.
Two major newspapers pulled their support of Gianforte following the assault.
“[T]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.”
“We believe that you cannot love America, love the Constitution, talk about the importance of a free press and then pummel a reporter. Beyond that, if Gianforte didn’t have the good and common sense to simply walk away from questions he didn’t like, we cannot believe he’s going to be able to make much more difficult, complex decisions when he’s in Congress. In no way would we want our readers or our community to believe we stood behind what appears to be an assault or an attack. We do not and we do not endorse Gianforte.”
Quist has been barnstorming the state in recent days, with Bernie Sanders making appearances on behalf of his campaign in key cities.
Hundreds of thousands of ballots have already been cast in the election, but many voters have yet to weigh in. Montana has same-day voter registration, so any citizen not on the rolls can participate by showing up at a polling place.
POSTSCRIPT: Gootkin’s office now says that Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault. Good. Now take him into custody.