(ABC NEWS) – The Republican candidate for the Montana at-large U.S. House of Representatives special election, Greg Gianforte, has been cited for misdemeanor assault after he allegedly assaulted a reporter Wednesday — less than 24 hours before polls are to open in the state — law enforcement officials said late Wednesday night.
Sheriff Brian Gootkin announced the charge on the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office website.
“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.” The statement added that the “nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.
At a press conference earlier in the day, Gootkin said that four people were present for the alleged incident.
As a result of the citation, Gianforte is schedule to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7th.
Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for The Guardian, approached former technology executive Gianforte at a meet-and-greet event at the candidate’s office in Bozeman, according to Jacobs, fellow reporter Alexis Levinson of Buzzfeed News, who was nearby and heard the commotion, and journalists with Fox News who witnessed the incident.
Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna said she and two members of her production crew — field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey — witnessed the incident first hand.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna wrote in a Fox News report on Wednesday, summarizing the incident.
“Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter,” she said, confirming Jacobs’ account of the incident.
As Levinson recounted in a series of posts on Twitter and in audio of the encounter later posted by The Guardian, Jacobs approached Gianforte as he was preparing for a television interview and asked for his opinion on the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the American Health Care Act.
“We’ll talk to you about that later,” said Gianforte. After Jacobs asks again, Gianforte refers him to a spokesman and then a scuffle ensues.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” said Gianforte on the audio recording. “The last guy who came in here … did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.”
At one point Gianforte asks, “Are you with The Guardian?”
After the alleged incident Wednesday, Jacobs wrote on Twitter, “Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses.”
In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday evening, Jacobs elaborated, saying that he had “been pressing the campaign for a few days to grab Gianforte one-on-one” and after being rebuked, attempted to ask about the CBO score “while he was just standing around.”
After detailing the moments on the audio recording, Jacobs said, “And next thing I know, I’m being body slammed.”
“He’s on top of me for a second. My glasses are broken,” said Jacobs. “It’s the strangest… moment in my entire life reporting.” The reporter said he then left and called police before being brought to the hospital where he was to have his elbow X-rayed. He has since been released, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said during a press conference Wednesday night, adding it was not aware of the specifics of his injuries.
And The Guardian’s U.S. Editor, Lee Glendinning, issued a statement supporting Jacobs. “The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist … We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced.”
Before the charges were filed, Gianforte’s spokesman Shane Scanlon had issued a statement placing the blame on Jacobs and claiming the candidate’s actions were a response to Jacobs pushing a phone in his face during “a separate interview in a private office” that he entered “without permission.”
“Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” read the statement, which was issued before Gianforte was cited for a misdemeanor. “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.”
But fallout from the incident was swift. The editorial boards of three state newspapers — the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Independent Record — announced late Wednesday night that they were rescinding their previous endorsement of Gianforte.
“Greg Gianforte should not represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives,” wrote the Missoulian. “The Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night … he should lose the confidence of all Montanans… Gianforte violated that pledge when he attacked a reporter for doing his job Wednesday night.”
And the Billings Gazette wrote, “We’re at a loss for words. And as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn’t happen often. What happens even less — hopefully never again — a Montana candidate assaulting a reporter. While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte’s altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent.”