UPDATE: May 25, 10:32 a.m.
Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat, has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he allegedly slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs to the floor Wednesday night. The incident happened at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman the night before Montana’s special election and left Jacobs with broken glasses. On an audio recording of the incident, Gianforte is heard yelling “Get the hell out of here.”
“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs told The Guardian. “I think he whaled on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”
VICE News has partnered with The Guardian to produce segments for VICE News Tonight on HBO. Josh Tyrangiel, executive vice president of content, news, issued a statement on Jacobs’ treatment Thursday:
“VICE News joins our partners at The Guardian in condemning the attack on journalist Ben Jacobs. It’s controversial, we know, to oppose violence against a person asking a question of a candidate for public office, but apparently that’s where we are. For any public official who wishes to live in a scrutiny free society we have one word of advice: move. There are plenty of wonderfully repressive countries that would be happy to have you. But America is a democracy built on a free press. Love it or leave it.”
A special congressional election in Montana took a turn for the bizarre Wednesday evening as the Republican running for the seat allegedly body-slammed a reporter to the floor and yelled at him to “get out of here.”
Candidate Greg Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault in connection with the incident at his campaign headquarters, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department confirmed early Thursday morning.
“Following 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 (MCA 45-5-201),” the statement reads. “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 election, which will fill now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vacated seat in the House of Representatives, is happening Thursday.
According to audio of the encounter released by the Guardian, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked Gianforte about his position on the recently-released Congressional Budget Office score for the Republican health care plan. Someone presumably Gianforte tells Jacobs he’ll “talk about that later” and asks him to “speak with Shane, please.” (“Shane” is presumably Shane Scanlon, Gianforte’s campaign spokesman.)
The audio then continues to what sounds like a struggle and a crash. The person thought to be Gianforte then shouts, “I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last guy who came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”
“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs answers.
Gianforte repeats, “The last guy did the same damn thing.”
“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says again.
Gianforte again tells Jacobs to “Get the hell out of here.”
Jacobs reported the incident — which allegedly took place at Gianforte’s Bozeman, Montana, campaign headquarters — to the police.
Alicia Acuna, a Fox News reporter who witnessed the event, validated Jacobs’ account, also alleging that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck and punched him:
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 man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of “I’m sick and tired of this!”
Gianforte’s campaign did not immediately return an interview request from VICE News, but Scanlon had a different version of events, blaming “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.”
“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,” Scanlon said in a statement. “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.”
BuzzFeed journalist Alexis Levinson — who said she was in a room adjacent to the incident but could see some of what happened through a “partially closed door” — confirmed some elements of both stories. After Jacobs entered a room set up for a TV interview, Levinson tweeted, “All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor… Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) — sounded like Gianforte.”
Gianforte left the event without speaking after police officers and firefighters arrived, Levinson said, adding that the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office — which did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment — also took witness statements. The office has since confirmed to BuzzFeed that they are investigating the incident.
Democrats haven’t held Montana’s lone House seat in almost two decades, but in the wake of surprisingly competitive special elections, political operatives across the country have poured money and time into the Montana special election. President Donald Trump also made robocalls supporting Gianforte, and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for him.
Gianforte’s opponent in the race, Democrat Rob Quist, called the incident “a matter for law enforcement.” In a statement, Tyler Law, a spokesman for House Democrats’ campaign arm the DCCC, called on Gianforte to “immediately withdraw his candidacy after his allegedly violent assault of an innocent journalist.”