Rep. Greg Gianforte, Montana Republican, lied to authorities in the aftermath of assaulting a reporter for The Guardian earlier this year and accused the “liberal media” of “trying to create a story,” according to police files released Friday.
Mr. Gianforte ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in connection with attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on May 23, a day before he defeated Democrat Rob Quist during a special election for the state’s vacant at-large House seat.
But prior to taking responsibility, Mr. Gianforte blamed Mr. Jacobs for the incident and accused him of “trying to make a story,” according to the cache of investigative documents released Friday by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.
Mr. Gianforte told authorities after the incident that Mr. Jacobs had interrupted him and “started interrogating in a very intensive way,” interviewing officer Sgt. Scott Secor wrote in a document released Friday.
“He then went on to explain ‘I probably shouldn’t do it but I reached out for his phone … he grabbed my wrist, he spun, and we ended up on the floor … so he pulled me down on top of him,’” the interviewer recalled.
“Gianforte said the ‘liberal media … is trying to make a story,’” he added. “He’s trying to create a story right now,” Mr. Gianforte reportedly said.
Mr. Gianforte’s initial reaction was echoed within hours in a statement released by campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon blaming “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist,” but he later changed course after the reporter produced audio of the assault corroborated by witness statements also released Friday.
Mr. Gianforte grabbed Mr. Jacobs “by the neck and body slammed him down to the ground” before throwing two punches, Fox News reporter Alicia Acuña told authorities following the assault.
It “appeared as though Gianforte was striking the reporter with closed fists,” recalled Joshua Elle, Mr. Gianforte’s driver.
“I’ve never seen anything in my years of covering politics,” added Fox News field producer Faith Mangan. “That blew my mind.”
Neither Mr. Gianforte nor his spokesman immediately responded publicly to the documents released Friday.
“When the police are investigating a case, suspects of crimes will say misleading things and apparently that’s exactly what happened here on the part of both Mr. Gianforte and his campaign,” Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert told The Associated Press.
“It is not a crime per se to lie to the cops,” he added. “The main thing here is he was charged with assaulting Ben Jacobs and pled guilty to that.”
Mr. Jacobs suffered minor injuries as a result of the incident and was treated and released from a local hospital within hours. Mr. Gianforte, meanwhile, paid a $385 fine, completed 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counseling after pleading guilty in June.