The Slatest

Republican Candidate in Montana Accused of Body Slamming and Punching Reporter for Asking Questions

Update, 10:45 p.m.: A crew from Fox News at the scene not only refutes Gianforte’s version of events, but gives greater detail on what appears to have been an even more violent exchange than reporter Ben Jacobs first described. Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who was preparing for an interview with Gianforte on Special Report with Bret Baier, writes that she and her crew were chatting with the GOP candidate before the interview was set to begin when Ben Jacobs approached.

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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 him 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 man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of “I’m sick and tired of this!”

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Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave… 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.

Original Post: On the eve of a special election to fill Montana’s lone House seat, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte lost his cool while being interviewed by reporters at his Bozeman, Montana headquarters when, out of the blue, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs says Gianforte body slammed him.

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It’s unclear what exactly set Gianforte off, but the race in the GOP stronghold to fill the seat of Ryan Zinke, who was selected to run the Interior Department, is far closer than expected and appears to be setting up as a referendum on President Trump and the GOP health care plan. “Democrat Rob Quist, a folk singer and first-time candidate, has raised more than $6 million for his campaign, including $1 million in the past week alone as energized Democratic donors pour online cash into political causes this year,” according to Politico. “Quist hopes that enthusiasm also contributes to an outsize turnout — as it did in special elections in Kansas and Georgia earlier this year—for the oddly scheduled Thursday election, happening just before a holiday weekend.”

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Jacobs was quizzing Gianforte about the latest developments on the Republican health care plan when the GOP candidate went after him. “I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte said. “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?” After apparently throwing Jacobs to the ground, Gianforte was then ushered out by aides and Jacobs reported the incident to local police.

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Here’s how BuzzFeed reporter Alexis Levinson, who was also present during the incident, described it:

“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it ooked 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…”

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According to Levinson, local authorities took witness statements following the incident. Gianforte left the even without speaking to the press; it’s unclear if he was interviewed by police.

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Here’s how the Gianforte campaign played it:

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs told the Guardian by phone from the back of an ambulance. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

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