Gianforte wins Montana House seat: Apologizes to reporter accusing him of assault

On Thursday, Republican Greg Gianforte won the special election for Montana's open US House seat. Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist.

During his acceptance speech, Gianforte apologized to Ben Jacobs, the Guardian reporter who accused the Republican of "body-slamming" him on Tuesday.

"When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That's the Montana way.

"I should not have responded the way I did, for that I'm sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I'm sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs," Gianforte said.

Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault of Jacobs, who works for The Guardian. Jacobs recorded the sound of his confrontation with Gianforte.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he wailed 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.”

In a statement late Wednesday, the office of the Gallatin County sheriff, Brian Gootkin, said there was enough evidence to charge Gianforte, with misdemeanor assault. Gianforte is scheduled to appear in court before June 7.

“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,” sheriff Gootkin said. “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.”

“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte can be heard saying on the recording shortly after the sounds of a physical struggle and a crash. “The last time you came here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here.”

Jacobs responded: “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.”

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte said again.

In a statement, Gianforte’s spokesman offered a strikingly different version of events.

“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” said Shane Scanlon, Mr. Gianforte’s spokesman. “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.”

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey witnessed the incident at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Montana.

“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!

"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.

Jacobs’s account was also partially confirmed by BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson.

“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it looked like from the outside – Ben walked into a room where a local tv crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte.

"All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw 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," Levinson said.

Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning said in a statement: “The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist while reporting on the Montana special election.”

“We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben Jacobs and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced.”

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