Montana Special Election: GOP Candidate Charged With Assaulting Reporter, Loses Newspaper Endorsements

Matt Vespa
|
Posted: May 25, 2017 8:00 AM
Montana Special Election: GOP Candidate Charged With Assaulting Reporter, Loses Newspaper Endorsements

Well, the day has arrived for Montana residents: it’s Election Day. They will decide whether Democrat Rob Quist or Republican Greg Gianforte will succeed former Congressman Ryan Zinke, who left his elected position to become the secretary of the interior in the Trump administration. Mr. Quist had had some campaign hiccups on the trail, namely the misreporting of his income on tax forms and the fact that he failed to pay taxes for nearly a decade are same of the major one. Yet, any campaign error was topped last night by Republican Greg Gianforte, who body slammed The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs in Bozeman during a meet and greet campaign event. Jacobs was merely asking Gianforte his thoughts on health care now that the CBO score was released. Annoyed by the question audio recordings captured the physical altercation.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here!” screamed Gianforte.

A statement was released by Gianforte’s campaign, saying that Jacobs was aggressive, shoved a recorder in Mr. Gianforte’s face, asked badgering questions, and the only after Jacobs allegedly grabbed Mr. Gianforte’s wrist did things become physical. Local county sheriffs interviewed witnesses. They charged Mr. Gianforte with misdemeanor assault early this morning. As a result, Mr. Gainforte has also lost his newspaper endorsements as well. Yet, it’s dubious whether this incident will tilt the election for the at-large congressional district, as over half of the ballots cast were already submitted through early voting. Mr. Gianforte was ahead of Mr. Quist by 12 points in an April Gravis poll (via NYT):

The Republican candidate in a hotly contested special House election in Montana was charged with assaulting a journalist on Wednesday at what was to be a final rally in Bozeman on the eve of the vote. The attack brought police officers to the event and sent the reporter to the hospital for X-rays.

In a statement late Wednesday, the office of the Gallatin County sheriff, Brian Gootkin, said there was enough evidence to charge the candidate, Greg Gianforte, with misdemeanor assault. Mr. Gianforte, the Republican candidate for the state’s lone House seat, is scheduled to appear in court before June 7.

It was an extraordinary development in a race that was already being closely watched for clues about the national political environment in the tumultuous first months of the Trump presidency.

Three of the state’s largest newspapers, The Billings Gazette, The Missoulian and The Helena Independent Record, quickly rescinded their endorsements of Mr. Gianforte. But prospects that the altercation could tip the race to the Democrat, Rob Quist, were complicated by Montana’s early-voting tradition: Over half the estimated total ballots in the contest had been returned by Wednesday.

[...]

If convicted, Mr. Gianforte faces up to a $500 fine, or six months in jail, or both.

Mr. Quist responded to questions about the incident as one best answered by law enforcement. The Times added that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called on Mr. Gianforte to withdraw from the race.

A Fox News team who was there covering the race also confirmed the assault:

As part of our preparation for a story about Thursday's special election to air on "Special Report with Bret Baier," we arranged interviews with the top two candidates, Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist. On Wednesday, I joined field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey in Bozeman for our scheduled interview with Gianforte, which was to take place at the Gianforte for Congress Bozeman Headquarters.

Faith, Keith and I arrived early to set up for the interview in a room adjacent to another room where a volunteer BBQ was to take place. As the time for the interview neared, Gianforte came into the room. We exchanged pleasantries and made small talk about restaurants and Bozeman.

During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte's face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.

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 reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"