Greg Gianforte, Republican candidate in Montana special election, allegedly body-slams reporter

On the eve of a special election to fill Montana’s House seat, the Republican candidate allegedly assaulted a journalist who was trying to ask him about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the House health care bill.

A violent altercation ensued, and the reporter, the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, quickly relayed the incident on social media.

“Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs tweeted Wednesday evening. In audio released of the incident, Jacobs asks Gianforte a question about the latest CBO scoring of the Affordable Health Care Act.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte said, as what sounds like a struggle can be heard on the recording. “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?”

“Yes! You just broke my glasses,” Jacobs replied.

“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said.

“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacob said.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte yelled.

Republican candidate for Montana’s only U.S. House seat, Greg Gianforte, sits in a vehicle near a Discovery Drive building Wednesday, May 24, 2017, in Bozeman, Mont. A reporter said Gianforte “body-slammed” him Wednesday, the day before the special election. (Freddy Monares/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)

Jacobs said he went to a local hospital to get an X-ray on his elbow. Gianforte left the event, and members of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office were taking statements at the scene. Earlier on Wednesday, Jacobs had published a story in the Guardian about financial ties between Gianforte and Russian companies under U.S. sanctions.

The sheriff’s office initially released a statement Wednesday evening saying it was “investigating allegations of assault involving Greg Gianforte.” As interest in the story grew, a press conference was called hours later. Sheriff Brian Gootkin said he was looking into whether Gianforte had fled the scene. “That will be part of the investigation,” Gootkin said.

Jacobs’ account of the incident was corroborated by Fox News Alicia Acuna, who was in the room to interview Gianforte at the time the violence occurred. Acuna said Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck and slammed him to the ground before punching him repeatedly.

“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,” Acuna wrote in her account of the attack.

Gianforte spokesperson Shane Scanlon released a statement Wednesday that appeared to be at odds both with the audio recording of the incident as well as Acuna’s retelling of it.

“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office,” Scanlon said in the statement, “the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. 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. It’s unfortunate that aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters during a campaign meet and greet at Lambros Real Estate on May 24, 2017 in Missoula, Montana. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rob Quist, the Democrat in the special election, told reporters he had no comment on the allegations.

“I hadn’t heard that, so that’s really not for me to talk about. That’s more of a matter for law enforcement,” Quist said. Asked what effect the incident might have on the outcome of the election, Quist demurred. “I guess, again, that’s not for me to judge. I’m just focused on the issues that are facing the people of Montana.”

This is not the first time Gianforte has clashed with a member of the media. At a campaign event in April, a supporter asked Gianforte his views on how the media could be reined in, the Missoulian reported.

“We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him,” Gianforte responded, after making a strangling gesture with his hands. “I don’t have a simple solution for you.”

Sixty percent of votes in the election have already been cast via absentee ballot. In Montana, any registered voter can request and use an absentee ballot.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement after the incident calling on Gianforte to withdraw his candidacy and urging House Speaker Paul Ryan and the National Republican Congressioinal Committee to denounce its candidate.

Though not in the room when the violence ensued, BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson was nearby and tweeted her account shortly after the incident.

“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it looked like from the outside — Ben walked into a room where a local TV crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte. All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor. Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) — sounded like Gianforte…”

Health care has been a key factor in the race to fill the House seat that was held by Ryan Zinke before his appointment as the Trump administration’s secretary of the interior, with Quist focusing his final ad on the issue.

Gianforte has previously come under fire over his views on the AHCA. Earlier this month he declined to tell reporters whether he supported the Republican plan to replace Obamacare.

“Greg needs to know all the facts, because it’s important to know exactly what’s in the bill before he votes on it,” a spokesman for Gianforte told the New York Times.

Later that same day, on a conference call with Republicans, Gianforte was heard praising the bill, the Times reported.

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