Montana GOP congressional candidate cited for misdemeanor assault after he was accused of body-slamming a reporter

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Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte talks with supporters during a campaign meet and greet at Lambros Real Estate on May 24, 2017 in Missoula, Montana.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate vying for an open congressional seat in Montana’s special election on Thursday, has been cited for misdemeanor assault after Gianforte was accused of body-slamming a reporter.

The altercation happened at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana on Wednesday. Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, said he was asking Gianforte some questions at a campaign event before their encounter turned violent.

“Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs tweeted Wednesday.

Local authorities said in a statement that after “multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s office, it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.”

Gianforte is expected to appear at Gallatin County Justice Court “between now and June 7,” the police statement said.

In an audio recording of the incident, captured by the reporter, Jacobs can be heard pressing Gianforte to comment on a Congressional Budget Office evaluation of the American Health Care Act released earlier Wednesday.

Then, a loud crash.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte can be heard shouting. “The last time you came in here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.”

Listen to audio of the exchange below:

“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte says again.

Jacobs described the incident to The Guardian:

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance, according to The Guardian. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

A Fox News crew that witnessed the encounter between Jacobs and Gianforte described a far more disturbing scene, saying Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground.”

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna said she and her crew “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top of the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this.'”

According to Acuna’s account, Jacobs “scrambled to his knees” and said that his glasses were broken.

“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,” the Fox News reporter said.

Jacobs was taken to a local hospital, where he reportedly got an X-ray on his elbow. Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin confirmed to The Guardian that his department was investigating the incident.

It was later reported that Sheriff Gootkin had donated $250 to Gianforte’s campaign in March, according to Federal Election Commission documents cited by Politico reporter Gabriel Debenedetti. The sheriff said in a statement that his previous donation to the Gianforte campaign had no bearing on the assault investigation.

Three of Montana’s biggest newspapers, the Missoulian, Independent Record, and the Billings Gazette, rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte after the alleged assault.

Photos posted to social media showed police vehicles and an ambulance on the scene. Jacobs reportedly filed a report with Bozeman police.

BuzzFeed’s Alexis Levinson, who was at the campaign event, said she heard a “giant crash” from behind partially closed doors and “saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”

Gianforte left the event early in a silver Jeep.

In a statement, Gianforte campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon suggested Jacobs was to blame:

“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. 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.”

Gianforte, an engineer and businessman, is running against Democrat Rob Quist in a special election on Thursday for Montana’s at-large Congressional district. The district was formerly held by Ryan Zinke, whom President Donald Trump tapped to lead the US Department of the Interior.

Gianforte unsuccessfully ran for governor of Montana in 2016.

Quist declined to comment on the incident when pressed by an MSNBC reporter Wednesday evening.

“That’s really not for me to talk about. I think that’s more a matter for law enforcement,” he said.

Polls suggest an unexpectedly tight race in the reliably conservative Montana. In 2016, Trump carried the state by 21 points. But with the White House embroiled in scandal, Democrats are keeping a close eye on the Montana contest, which could give an early glimpse of their chances in the 2018 midterm elections.

Gianforte, meanwhile, has allied himself closely to Trump, campaigning with Vice President Mike Pence, Zinke, and Donald Trump Jr.

Jacobs reported last month on Gianforte’s financial ties to two Russian companies sanctioned by the US.