Montana Republican candidate Greg Gianforte’s campaign is firing back at claims he “body slammed” a reporter, claiming that the reporter grabbed Gianforte’s wrist first.
However, Gianforte has now been cited for assault:
The sheriff, a campaign donor of Gianforte, released this statement:
A Fox News reporter backed up journalist Ben Jacobs, writing of herself and two other witnesses, “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
You can read the full Gianforte campaign response here:
The dramatic claim by reporter Ben Jacobs threatened to upend an already close race for the Montana House seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It’s a Republican seat in a state that went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, but observers had said the race appeared tighter than expected. Country singer Rob Quist is running against Gianforte.
The Gianforte campaign statement alleged that Jacobs “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”
Jacobs declined a request to lower his recorder, when asked, the statement alleges. “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,” says the campaign statement.
The statement blames “this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for creating the scene at a campaign volunteer barbecue.
There’s audio of the exchange. You can listen to it here:
The audio captures a rustling sound that sounds like an altercation, and then a male voice saying after Jacobs asks about healthcare, “I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last (unintelligible) that came in here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing, you with the Guardian?”
“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” says Jacobs.
“The last guy did the same da*n thing.”
“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says, saying he’s going to call the police.
“Get the hell out of here.”
Alicia Acuna, a Fox News reporter, has posted a firsthand account on the incident. She reported that she, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey were present as Jacobs “walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if him if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.”
Acuna continued, “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 man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”
She wrote that “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. He 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 reporter has filed a complaint with police, and medics were called to the scene. Authorities so far are saying very little.
“The Gallatin County Sheriffs Office is currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte. We will provide a press release with more information when appropriate. The investigation is ongoing,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement shortly after the incident on May 24.
The police press conference on the reporter’s claims was streamed via a live stream here. The Sheriff said during the press conference that authorities interviewed “Mr. Gianforte very briefly” at the scene and wanted to speak with him more in depth. Asked if Jacobs was filing charges, the sheriff responded only that Jacobs was out of the hospital being interviewed by investigators, a process that could take several hours.
The Sheriff said there was an “active investigation as we speak.” He said that authorities were trying to talk to all the parties to get an overview of what happened.
“There were allegations that an assault occurred,” he said, adding that the audio recording was “retrieved from the alleged victim.” He said he had not listened to the entire audio and added that there were five witnesses overall, including Gianforte and Jacobs.
It later emerged that the sheriff, Brian Gootkin, has donated money recently to Gianforte’s campaign.
Gianforte, 56, is a businessman, with a net worth estimated in the millions of dollars. He co-founder RightNow Technologies, and unsuccessfully ran for Montana governor.