Greg Gianforte is the Republican elected to represent Montana‘s at-large Congressional district, which has been vacant since Ryan Zinke became President Donald Trump‘s Secretary of the Interior. Gianforte was also charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly “body slamming” a journalist the night before the election. Despite facing a criminal charge, Gianforte won the seat.
Gianforte found himself in a surprisingly competitive race before the election against the Democratic candidate, country singer Rob Quist. Although the polls suggested that it would be a close race, the final results were not. As the Billings Gazette notes, Gianforte earned 51 percent of the 360,508 votes counted, while Quist won 44 percent.
Gianforte is still in trouble with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. The journalist reported on Twitter that Gianforte “body slammed” him and broke his glasses. Alixis Levinson of BuzzFeed News wrote that she heard a “giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.” To hear the 911 audio from the incident, click here. In the audio, it sounds as if Gianforte tells Jacobs to “get the hell out of here.”
At first, his campaign has issued a statement that contradicted Jacobs’ version of events and the recording released. In it, spokesman Shane Scalion says that Jacobs “began asking badgering questions” and was asked to leave. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” Scalion said.
The Gatlin County Sheriffs Office confirmed after a press conference that Gianforte has been cited for misdemeanor assault. “The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017,” the statement reads.
Jacobs also shared a photo of his broken glasses with The Guardian. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics,” Jacobs told his colleagues.
During his victory speech, Gianforte apologized for his behavior.
“Last night I made a mistake and I took an action I can’t take back and I am not proud of what happened,” Gianforte told the crowd. “I should not have responded the way I did and for that I am sorry.”
The 56-year-old Gianforte is a businessman, with a net worth estimated to be in the millions of dollars. He’s the co-founder of RightNow Technologies, which he founded with his wife, Susan. The couple have been married since 1989 and have four children.
Last year, Gianforte gained national attention by running for Montana’s governor. Even though Trump won the state with over 55 percent of the vote and Zinke easily won re-election, Gianforte failed to beat incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock.
Here’s what you need to know about Gianforte.
1. Gianforte’s Net Worth Is Estimated to Be in the Hundreds of Millions
Gianforte’s exact net worth is unknown, but the Naitonal Journal reports that it is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions and could be over a billion dollars. That’s because he sold RightNow Technologies to Oracle in 2011 for $1.5 billion.
Before the business was sold, it was based in Bozeman, where half of the company’s 1,000 employees were based in 2011, notes the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Gianforte founded the business with his wife in 1997 and it became the largest commercial employer in Bozeman.
KXLH reports that Gianforte’s financial disclosure form showed that his 2016 income was between $2.3 million and $15.7 million. His assets were valued at between $65 million and $315 million.
If he’s elected, Gianforte has vowed to put his and his wife’s assets into a blind trust.
“There will be a complete separation,” Gianforte told KXLH. “Personal assets should not influence someone’s decision-making in office.”
2. Donald Trump Recorded Robocalls to Get Montanans to Vote for Gianforte & Donald Trump Jr. Campaigned for Him
Gianforte has surprisingly embraced President Donald Trump’s support, even as Trump’s approval rating continues to fall. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recorded robocalls to get Montanans to vote for the Republican candidate.
“Hi, this is President Donald Trump and I know what the people of Montana really want and really care about,” Trump said in the robocall, reports CNN. “If you don’t vote tomorrow, the liberal Democrats running for Congress will decimate and dismantle all that we’ve done. … So get to the polls and vote for Greg. That’s Greg Gianforte, you’ll be very proud of him for years to come. Thanks a lot!”
Gianforte has even continued using phrases Trump used repeatedly during last year’s campaign, notes the New York Times. “The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to work with Donald Trump,” Gianforte told reporters on May 22.
Gianforte has also vowed to help repeal Obamacare and referred to Quist as “Nancy Pelosi in a cowboy hat.” And while Trump himself didn’t travel to Montana, Donald Trump Jr. did. The week before the election, Trump Jr. appeared at three events to support Gianforte.
3. Gianforte Wants to Repeal Obamacare & Has Made Conflicting Statements About the AHCA
Gianforte has said that he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. However, he has made conflicting statements about whether or not he supports the American Health Care Act, which passed the Republican-controlled House.
On May 5, The New York Times obtained a recording of Gianforte telling Republican-leaning lobbyists in Washington, D.C. that he’s “thankful for” the bill Republicans passed.
“The votes in the House are going to determine whether we get tax reform done, sounds like we just passed a health care thing, which I’m thankful for, sounds like we’re starting to repeal and replace,” Gianforte said in the recording, according to the Times.
Gianforte’s aides tried to explain what the candidate meant, saying that he was only thankful for the process of repealing Obamacare starting. “He would not have voted for the bill because he didn’t know what was in it,” aide Brock Lowrance told the Times.
“Greg would not have supported the bill in its current form because he did not have those assurances,” Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon told the Washington Times. “Rob Quist wants to double down on Obamacare with a complete government takeover of our health care system, but he won’t tell Montanans how it’s going to work or how we will pay for it. The results would be rationed care, reduced access and higher premiums.”
Quist pounced on the “thankful” comment, mentioning it in a TV ad. He’s called the AHCA a “big tax break” for millionaires and has portrayed Gianforte as an outsider. Gianforte was born in San Diego and raised in California before he moved to Bozeman.
Jacobs asked Gianforte for a comment on health care after the Congressional Budget Office released its score on the AHCA, revealing that 23 million Americans will lose health care in a decade. Gianforte told Jacobs to speak with his spokesman, and then allegedly pushed Jacobs to the ground.
4. Gianforte, His Wife & His 4 Children Run the Gianforte Family Foundation
Gianforte has run several philanthropic efforts since he sold his company. In 2005, he established The Gianforte Family Foundation, which supports “faith-based organizations engaged in outreach work, strengthening families, and helping the needy” and other groups in the state. Gianforte, his wife Susan and their four children – Richard, David, Adam and Rachel – are also on the board of trustees. While their three sons were born outside Montana, Rachel was born in Bozeman and is studying at Stanford.
According to the foundation’s website, the family has donated over $51.7 million to local, state and even international projects. But the foundation is not without its controversies.
During Gianforte’s gubernatorial campaign, The Huffington Post reportedd that his foundation gave the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) over $30,000 in 2012 and 2014. ACCS was co-founded by the controversial Idaho pastor Douglas Wilson, who once wrote, “One could argue that the black family has never been stronger than it was under slavery.”
Gianforte “is unfamiliar with Mr. Wilson’s writings outside of their mutual involvement with ACCS,” Aaron Flint, a spokesman for Gianforte’s gubernatorial campaign, told the Huffington Post.
Gianforte’s foundation also supports CodeMontana, a scholarship program that helps computer science students.
5. Ben Jacobs Reported on Gianforte Investing in 2 U.S.-Sanctioned Russian Companies
Gianforte has financial ties to two Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the U.S. government in the past.
The Guardian reports that Gianforte’s financial disclosure form filed to the U.S. House clerk shows that he owns nearly $150,000 in shares of VanEck Vectors Russia ETF. He also has $92,400 invested in the iShares MSCF Russia ET fund. Both of these funds have “significant holdings” in companies like Gazprom and Rosneft, two companies that were hit with sanctions after Russia invaded the Crimea.
“The situation with Russia is the result of the last eight years of a failed policy by President Obama,” Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon told the Guardian. “The US and our allies need to work together on a long-term strategy to stand against Russian aggression in the region and to ensure the sovereignty of our allies is protected. In any foreign policy decision, we must always ensure that America’s interests are protected.”
Scanlon also told the Guardian that Gianforte didn’t oversee his portfolio on a “day-to-day basis,” only focusing on “overall performance.”
“Montana voters deserve to know why Greg Gianforte held on to his shady Russian investments after Putin invaded Ukraine, and again when Russia was accused of interfering in the presidential election,” Quist spokesperson Tina Olechowski told the Guardian. “Instead Gianforte kept his Russian ties secret during his failed run for governor last year.”
That Guardian report exposing Gianforte’s Russian financial ties was written by Ben Jacobs, who claimed on Twitter the night before the election that Gianforte “body slammed me and broke my glasses.” Jacobs wrote that a local TV crew recorded the incident. To hear the 911 audio from the incident, click here.
Alexis Levinson of Buzzfeed live-tweeted the incident, writing that Gianforte left the event where he was supposed to speak without talking to his supporters. The police and firefighters arrived at the scene. “Ben walked out holding his broken glasses in his hand and said ‘he just bodyslammed me,'” Levinson wrote.
Blake Montgomery, also of BuzzFeed News, posted a picture of Gianforte leaving the campaign event.
Fellow Guardian reporter Sabrina Siddiqui wrote that Jacobs got an X-ray on his elbow.
After a press conference, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin confirmed in a statement that Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault for allegedly “body slamming” Jacobs. He will have to report to court between now and June 7. If he is convicted, Gianforte could face up to six months in prison and/or face a fine of at least $500.