Just hours before voters head to the polls, a violent incident with a reporter Wedensday has Greg Gianforte‘s campaign scrambling.
Guardian U.S. reporter Ben Jacobs said that Gianforte, the Republican nominee in a special election Thursday for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, “bodyslammed” him to the ground after being asked a question about health care.
“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said to The Guardian, reportedly from the back of an ambulance. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”
Following multiple interviews with witnesses, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office charged Gianforte with misdemeanor assault. It issued a news release late in the evening May 24 saying that interviews with witnesses gave it probable cause to do so. Sheriff Brian Gootkin also addressed a $250 campaign contribution to Gianforte in the statement.
Police scanner audio following the incident reveals an emergency call to authorities. The dispatcher on the audio says: “(Jacobs) says he is a reporter and asked about his health care plan and Gianforte body slammed him.” The dispatcher in the recording said that Gianforte “kicked” Jacobs’ arm after slamming him to the ground.
Listen to the full scanner audio from the Gallatin County Sheriff and Fire, Bozeman Police/Fire scanner, courtesy of Broadcastify.com, below:
The Gianforte campaign has since released a statement on the matter. In it, campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said that Jacobs “entered the office without permission” and “aggressively shoved a recorder” into Gianforte’s face. Scanlon said that Gianforte tried to grab Jacobs’ phone as the reporter grabbed his wrist and “spun away,” forcing the two to the ground.
“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” the statement concluded.
Just over an hour after it occurred, raw audio from the inside the room was posted by The Guardian to YouTube. A scuffle between the two is heard on the recording after Jacobs inquires about his stance on health care. It ends with Gianforte demanding that Jacobs “get the hell out of here.”
Also in the room with Gianforte and Jacobs at the time of the alleged incident was Fox News’ Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey. Acuna wrote a chilling account of what she witnessed with her two coworkers in the room. She said that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck and punched him after throwing him down to the ground.
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.
The spacial election in Montana is set for Thursday and is being held to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
There were no primaries held for the race, so party leaders selected nominees at conventions.
Republicans nominated Gianforte, who is a businessman that had a failed run at governor in 2016. He is vying for the seat against Democrat Rob Quist, who is a musician. There’s a third-party candidate, too: Libertarian Mark Wicks.
But a lot of Montana residents have already voted early in the special election. Daily Kos Elections projected that “at least two-thirds” of people had already cast their ballot before election day.