Greg Gianforte, the GOP House candidate in Montana who was neck-and-neck with his Democratic opponent before Thursday’s special election, was cited for misdemeanor assault after an incident with a newspaper reporter, just hours before polls open.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that there was probable cause to issue a citation, but the nature of the injuries “did not meet the statutory elements of a felony assault.”
Still, the incident sent shockwaves across the country and resulted in two key Montana newspapers taking back their earlier endorsement.
The incident occurred Wednesday evening when a Fox News team was scheduled to interview Gianforte at his campaign headquarters. The team said Ben Jacobs, the reporter from The Guardian, pressed Gianforte about the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act.
Gianforte told Jacobs to talk to his press officer. At some point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground, according to witnesses.
The crew watched Gianforte punch the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”
A statement from Gianforte’s campaign said, “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.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced that it would launch as many Facebook ads as possible about the incident, targeting Montana Democratic voters who might not otherwise vote Thursday. The Committee also said Gianforte must quit the race and the Republican Party should publicly denounce him.
Federal records show that the sheriff donated $250 to Gianforte’s congressional campaign in March. In his statement, Gootkin confirmed the donation but said, “This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation, which is now complete.”
Gianforte is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between Wednesday night and June 7. He would face a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail if convicted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.