BOZEMAN, Mont. — Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat, was charged with misdemeanor assault Wednesday night he allegedly grabbed a reporter by the neck and slammed him to the ground.
The confrontation was caught on audio tape on Wednesday, the day before the special election to fill the state’s only seat in Congress.
Gianforte’s campaign said Ben Jacobs from The Guardian entered the office without permission, shoved a recorder in the candidate’s face and asked badgering questions.
But eyewitness accounts contradicted that version of events. Jacobs said he was just trying to ask a simple question.
“I politely asked the congressman a question about the health care bill,” Jacobs said. “It was a very strange moment that he suddenly, you know, grabs my recorder, and then things go haywire from there.”
Jacobs said he never touched the candidate.
“They got my name right and my employer right, but other than that, there was not a single correct element there,” he said.
An audio file provided by Jacobs backs up his account of what happened, as do witness accounts from other journalists.
A Fox News team said they saw Gianforte grab Jacobs “by the neck with both hands” and slam him into the ground.
They said they “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”
Asked earlier about that account, Jacobs didn’t say whether he was punched. But he said he “was on the ground at the point, so it was a little bit sudden.”
Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed who said she had a partial view of the altercation, said she saw “feet fly in the air” from a nearby office.
“The door to the room was about half open, so I couldn’t see the whole thing,” she said. “I heard the crash. I saw his feet fly in a way that someone’s feet can fly only when they’re ending up on the ground.”
If convicted, Gianforte would face a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail if convicted. A statement from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said Jacobs’ injuries did not meet the legal definition of felony assault.