The Republican candidate in Montana’s special election to fill the House seat vacated by Ryan Zinke unleashed his wrath on a Guardian Reporter, ending in what is being called a “body-slam.”
The alleged incident took place Wednesday evening at Candidate Greg Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Mont., when Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, asked Gianforte about the Congressional Budget Office’s latest report, released earlier that afternoon.
Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna and her crew were setting up for a story to air on “Special Report with Bret Baier” and gave a first-hand account of the incident in a statement on the Fox News Site. Acuna wrote that she, along with field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey, had arrived early to set up for the interview when Gianforte came into the room and they were making small talk. At that point, wrote Acuna, Jacobs “walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking 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.”
“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 reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’” wrote Acuna.
“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. Jacobs 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,” Acuna wrote.
In a statement, Shane Scanlon offered his version of how the incident unfolded: “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.”
He concluded with the following: “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
Scanlon’s version of events, however, does not line up with Acuna’s statement and Jacobs’s recording.
Acuna wrote: “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.” Acuna said she and her crew are cooperating with local authorities.
On the recording, sounds of a physical struggle and crash are followed by Gianforte saying, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last time you came here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here.”
Jacobs is then heard saying, “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.”
In addition to his glasses being broken, Jacobs said he landed on his elbow on a concrete floor in the incident. He later went to a Bozeman hospital for an X-ray. In a telephone interview from the hospital, Jacobs maintained that Gianforte was the sole aggressor and had been angry about a video The Guardian posted Tuesday about the campaign.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Wednesday night stating that Gianforte has been cited for misdemeanor assault and that the incident did not meet the state’s statutory definition of felony assault.
In response to questions that he had made a $250 contribution to Gianforte’s campaign, Sheriff Brian Gootkin, said, “This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation, which is now complete.”
The incident has triggered two Montana newspapers, the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette, to pull their endorsements of Gianforte and issue condemnations of the candidate.
News coverage and posts on social media of the incident spread quickly, however at this time, it remains to be seen if it will affect the election outcome.
As of last night, over 250,000 Montana voters had already cast their ballots, well over half of the total turnout according to officials in both parties, and Gianforte was showing an advantage in private polling in Montana. Democrat Rob Quist, on the other hand, has enjoyed popularity among national progressive activists, raising over $6 million despite little help from Washington Democrats.