- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2017

As Republicans wrestled with the latest analysis of their health care proposal, a reporter claimed Wednesday that Greg Gianforte, the Republican in Thursday’s special election for Montana’s empty House seat, took more immediate action — by body-slamming him. Mr. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin made the announcement shortly before midnight Wednesday in a written statement, about six hours after the attack on reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Gianforte would face a maximum $500 fine or 6 months in jail if convicted. The statement added that Jacobs’ injuries did not meet the legal definition of felony assault.

Mr. Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, griped loudly that Mr. Gianforte, who is running against Democrat Rob Quist, attacked him hours before voters went to the polls in Montana.

“Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Mr. Jacobs charged on Twitter from Bozeman, Montana.

Mr. Jacobs’ account was largely confirmed by multiple eyewitnesses, including a Fox News crew setting up an interview with Mr. Gianforte when the incident occurred.

The reporter filed a report with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Brian Gootkin confirmed at a Wednesday night news conference that authorities were interviewing witnesses in the incident. He said his officers plan to talk with Mr. Gianforte, but he has a right to decline.

SEE ALSO: Greg Gianforte’s Montana race a health care bellwether

The besieged Gianforte campaign had a vastly different take on the night’s political bout, saying Mr. Jacobs interrupted an interview in a private room and “aggressively shoved a recorder” in the face of their candidate and “began asking badgering questions.”

“Jacobs was asked to leave,” said Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon. “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,” Mr. Scanlon added. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

Mr. Gianforte is locked in a tight race with Mr. Quist to replace Ryan Zinke, who vacated his spot in Congress to become President Trump’s secretary of the interior.

The special election in Montana is the first since House Republicans last month passed a bill to replace and repeal Obamacare, which President Trump and House GOP leaders vowed would strengthen the nation’s health care system.

According to an audio file posted by The Guardian, the confrontation began when Mr. Jacobs was following up a question by another Guardian reporter about the CBO scoring of the House-passed health care bill, a key issue in the special election.

This irritated Mr. Gianforte, who said he would talk about it later. When Mr. Jacobs persisted, a loud crash can be heard and the candidate yelled that he was “sick and tired of you guys. The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with The Guardian?”

On the tape, Mr. Jacobs complains about his glasses and Mr. Gianforte repeats his demands that the reporter leave.

Fox News published a first-person piece by Alicia Acuna, who was working with field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey.

The piece specifically denied some of the claims made by the Gianforte campaign.

“At that point, 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!’” Ms. Acuna wrote.

“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,” she continued.

After Mr. Jacobs said he would call the police, according to Ms. Acuna, “Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized.”

That part of the account is not on the audiotape that the Guardian posted.

Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed, also appeared to vouch for Mr. Jacobs’ account, saying she hesitated to tweet the news because “I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like this before.”

“Ben Walked into a room where a local tv crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte,” she said. “All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”

Polls show most Republicans don’t trust the mainstream media.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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