Politics: GOP candidate in Montana's special election cited for misdemeanor assault on accusations he body-slammed a reporter
"You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses," the reporter said in an audio recording he captured.
Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte has been cited by police for misdemeanor assault after Gianforte was accused of body-slamming a reporter on Wednesday.
"Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses," tweeted Ben Jacobs, a reporter with The Guardian, who was covering a Gianforte campaign event.
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."
The altercation took place at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana. The Gallatin County Sheriff's office said in a statement late Wednesday that Gianforte was cited
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 "currently investigating" the incident and declined to comment further.
It was later reported that Sheriff Gootkin donated $250 to Gianforte's campaign in March, according to Federal Election Commission documents cited by Politico reporter Gabriel Debenedetti.
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.