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House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for Montana’s open seat in the US House of Representatives, “should apologize” for allegedly assaulting reporter from The Guardian on Wednesday night.
Ryan told reporters at a press conference that “physical altercations” of any kind “are wrong and that shouldn’t have happened.” He added that Gianforte “should apologize.”
Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault after the incident. Fox News reporters who witnessed the altercation described a scene in which Gianforte grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the throat, throwing him to the ground, and punching him repeatedly. Jacobs had asked Gianforte about the Congressional Budget Office’s latest evaluation of the American Health Care Act released earlier Wednesday.
Montana is holding a special election on Thursday to replace Ryan Zinke, who was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Donald Trump. Ryan said he didn’t think Gianforte’s behavior was “acceptable,” but that the choice to elect him “will be made by the people of Montana.”
Three of Montana’s biggest newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte in the hours following the incident, which was captured by Jacobs in an audio recording.
Gianforte’s spokesman, Shane Scanlon, released a statement alleging that Jacobs had approached the candidate aggressively and without permission.
“He entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions,” the spokesman said. “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.”
On the audio, Gianforte can not be heard asking Jacobs to lower the recorder at any point during the incident. Scanlon’s statement was disputed by a Fox News reporter.
“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!” the reporter, Alicia Acuna, recounted on Wednesday.
“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,” she added.
Top congressional Republicans remained mostly quiet about the incident hours before polls were to open in Montana on Thursday. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter told The Associated Press on Thursday that it was “not appropriate behavior, unless the reporter deserved it.” Republican Rep. Charlie Dent told NBC that while the conversation should always be “civil,” if Gianforte won the election, he’d be “welcome” in the House.
Polls suggest an unexpectedly tight race in the reliably conservative state. Democrats are keeping a close eye on the Montana contest and other special elections, which could provide a glimpse of party performance in the 2018 midterm elections.
Bryan Logan contributed reporting.