UPDATE, 12:51 a.m. ET, 5/25/17: Greg Gianforte has received a citation for misdemeanor assault. If convicted, he faces a maximum of six months in jail and a $500 fine, according to the Bozeman Chronicle.
It was Republican candidate Greg Gianforte’s last scheduled event before Thursday’s special congressional election for Montana’s only U.S. House seat. Instead of providing voters with headlines about his policy positions, he gave them something else entirely: a violent outburst captured on an audio recording, of him allegedly body-slamming a reporter asking him a question.
Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian (and previously for The Daily Beast) attempted to ask Gianforte a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the American Health Care Act, a bill which Gianforte said he supported on a call with lobbyists.
In the audio recording, published by The Guardian, Jacobs asks Gianforte to respond to the recent score, showing that 23 million Americans would lose their coverage.
“We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte says.
“Yeah, but there’s not going to be time,” Jacobs responds. “I’m just curious about it right now.”
Then an altercation can be heard, and Jacobs says “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.”
“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte then screams. “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?”
Jacobs subsequently went to the police, who let Gianforte leave the scene of the alleged assault—a campaign event at which he ended up making no public appearance—before he was initially interviewed.
A Fox News reporter, Alicia Acuna, who witnessed the attack, wrote that Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him… I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching” Jacobs.
Gianforte’s spokesman Shane Scanlon, however, released a statement claiming that Jacobs, “a liberal journalist,” was asked to lower his recorder before the incident occurred.
“Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face,” Scanlon said. “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.”
In a brief press conference Wednesday night, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that “we still have an active investigation going on as we speak.”
He went on to say that Gianforte was interviewed very briefly and that there were five other witnesses present, including Jacobs, who was also being interviewed. Gootkin also said that he had not yet listened to the entire audio recording of the incident and wasn’t sure if there was video of the incident captured by anyone else in the room.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee responded aggressively to the incident by calling on Gianforte to drop out of the race.
“Greg Gianforte must immediately withdraw his candidacy after his alleged violent assault of an innocent journalist,” spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement.
“Further, Speaker [Paul] Ryan and the National Republican Campaign Committee should not waste another minute before publicly denouncing their candidate and apologizing for the millions of dollars they spent on his behalf.”
What was once a steady lead for the Republican candidate has dwindled in recent days following a barnstorming of Montana cities by the Democratic candidate and folk singer Rob Quist. He, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, criss-crossed the state over the weekend condemning the AHCA and Gianforte for supporting it.
“This is merely a tax break for the super-rich,” Quist said in Butte on Saturday. “That’s all it is. In the greatest country on earth, people should not have to declare bankruptcy just because they have a health care issue.”
Over 250,000 Montanans have already cast ballots by mail, more than are expected to vote in person Thursday.