BOZEMAN, MT — Thursday’s special election for Montana’s sole congressional seat got a last-minute twist when the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, was cited for misdemeanor assault.
Key newspapers in the state rescinded endorsements of Gianforte after the incident, including the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record.
Gianforte was cited for grabbing a reporter by the throat and throwing him to the ground in his campaign office Wednesday night. The reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, was asking Gianforte about the Republican health care bill. Three Fox News employees witnessed the attack, which was also captured on an audio recording.
Gianforte’s campaign blamed Jacobs for the incident.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said Jacobs’ injuries were not severe enough for felony assault. The maximum penalty if convicted of the misdemeanor assault charge is a $500 fine and 6 months in jail.
Jacobs says he never touched the politician before he was thrown to the ground. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he was doing his job and asking a question of candidate Gianforte as part of covering Thursday’s special election.
In an audio recording posted by The Guardian, the reporter asks the congressional candidate about the GOP’s health care bill, which was just evaluated hours earlier by the Congressional Budget Office.
When Jacobs says that there won’t be time, Gianforte says “Just–” and there is a crashing sound. Gianforte yells, “The last guy who came here did the same thing,” and a shaken-sounded Jacobs tells the candidate he just body-slammed him.
“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte says.
“We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte says on the recording, referring Jacobs to a spokesman.
Many voters cast their ballot early so it’ll be hard to know the impact of the charge on the election results.
Voters decide in the special election whether Republican Greg Gianforte or Democrat Rob Quist will fill the U.S. House seat left vacant when Ryan Zinke resigned to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as secretary of the Interior Department.