The Montana special election heated up in a big way on the eve before voters choose a new House member when a national political reporter for a British newspaper, Ben Jacobs, claimed he was “body slammed” by GOP candidate, Greg Gianforte.
Gianforte was cited for assault:
The sheriff, a campaign donor of Gianforte’s, released a statement saying the donation didn’t affect his decision.
Photos emerged from the scene, showing Gianforte in a vehicle at the campaign BBQ after the altercation, which was captured on audio (you can listen to that below).
Jacobs, the reporter for The Guardian, who has written some hard-hitting pieces on GOP candidate Greg Gianforte, launched the allegation on Twitter and made a complaint to police, who were conducting a lengthy interview with him after the incident. Jacobs claimed that, in addition to body slamming him after he asked Gianforte a question about healthcare, Gianforte allegedly broke his glasses.
Gianforte’s campaign has challenged the claim, alleging that the reporter grabbed Gianforte’s wrist and was overly aggressive after asking the question. However, a Fox News reporter who witnessed the incident has written that Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” She also noted, “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
Watch the police press conference on the reporter’s claims via a live stream here. The sheriff, Brian Gootkin, said in 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 of the parties present to get an overview of what happened.
“There were allegations that an assault occurred,” the sheriff 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 turned out that Gootkin has donated money to Gianforte’s campaign.
Reporters at the scene captured photos of the response by law enforcement and medics. Gianforte, 56, is a businessman, with a net worth estimated in the millions of dollars. He co-founded RightNow Technologies, and unsuccessfully ran for Montana governor.
“Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs wrote on Twitter. Other reporters were at the scene, and Jacobs wrote that there was a record of what happened. He also tweeted, “There was a local TV crew there when Gianforte body slammed me. Audio is posting soon at @GuardianUS.”
Here’s Gianforte’s side:
Here’s the audio:
The audio captures what sounds like an altercation, and then a male voice says 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,” Jacobs responds.
“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.”
Reporters tweeted that Jacobs had gone to the hospital to get an X-ray and that he had made a complaint with police on the incident.
The dramatic claim came the day before the election. The Montana special election is being closely watched around the country because the state went overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump. However, the race was said by many observers to now be closer than expected, with Gianforte, the Republican candidate still favored, but not as overwhelmingly as might be expected in such a Republican state. Country singer Rob Quist is squaring off against Gianforte as the Democratic candidate in the race.
The election is to replace Ryan Zinke, whom President Trump named his Interior Secretary. The key issue in the race appears to be Gianforte’s support for the GOP repeal of Obamacare, and it’s said to be a bellwether for the Republican approach to healthcare as well as for Trump.
According to his bio on The Guardian website, Jacobs is based in Washington D.C. for the British newspaper, and he is a former reporter for the Daily Beast.
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, 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.”
The statement blames “this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for creating the scene at a campaign volunteer barbecue.
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.”
Read more about Gianforte here: