Good Morning America
Fox News journalist gives eyewitness account of Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulting reporter
Morgan Winsor, Good Morning America May 25, 2017
Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna says she was among a handful of journalists who witnessed Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Montanta’s special House election, slam a reporter to the ground Wednesday night.
In a Fox News report summarizing the alleged incident, Acuna said she and two members of her production crew — field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Raily — had a scheduled interview with Gianforte at the candidate’s office in Bozeman, Montana, on Wednesday. Gianforte entered the room and “exchanged pleasantries and made small talk about restaurants and Bozeman” with Acuna and her team, she said.
“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,” Acuna wrote in the Fox News report. “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.”
The encounter suddenly took a violent turn, she said.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna wrote. “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!'”
“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,” Acuna continued. “Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.”
Gianforte, a former technology executive, left the scene after providing statements to local sheriff’s deputies, according to Acuna.
Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault, according to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.
“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement on its website Wednesday night.
The statement added that the “nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.”
At a press conference Wednesday, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that four people were present for the alleged incident.
As a result of the citation, Gianforte is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7.
In the Fox News report, Acuna said she and her crew are “cooperating with local authorities” and will have to appear in court.
Before the charges were filed, Gianforte’s spokesman Shane Scanlon issued a statement, placing the blame on Jacobs and claiming the candidate’s actions were a response to Jacobs pushing a phone in his face during “a separate interview in a private office” that he entered “without permission.”
“Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” according to the statement. “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 this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
In the Fox News report, Acuna wrote that she and her production crew “at no point” saw Jacobs demonstrate “any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”
ABC News’ Adam Kelsey contributed to this report.
GOP candidate’s attack on journalist is an extension of Trump’s violent, anti-media rhetoric
The alleged assault of Ben Jacobs did not happen in a vacuum.
Lindsay Gibbs, Sports Reporter at ThinkProgress May 25, 2017
Wednesday, on the eve of Montana’s special election for its congressional seat, Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs approached Republican candidate Greg Gianforte. Jacobs wanted to know if Gianforte supported the American Health Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office had just revealed would cause 23 million Americans to lose insurance.
Gianforte dodged the question, but when the reporter persisted, the candidate “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” according to an eyewitness account by Fox News reporters who were on the scene. Then Gianforte began punching Jacobs, who released audio of the incident.
Jacobs was taken to the hospital, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault, and the special election is proceeding as previously scheduled, with no prominent GOP figures rescinding their support of Gianforte.
It’s appalling, but ultimately not surprising, that a politician allegedly assaulted a reporter who was merely doing his job. This is the result of the violent, anti-media rhetoric that President Trump has been spewing since early in his campaign. It’s a progression of — not an exception to — the current climate of the Republican Party under Trump’s leadership.
Throughout his campaign — and since his victory — Trump told his supporters the story of a crooked, “liberal media” conspiring to spread lies to take down him and his supporters. Trump has, in no uncertain terms, said that the media is the enemy and the “opposition party.”
And at Trump’s campaign rallies, where violent incidents grew to be quite common, anger was often targeted at this agreed-upon enemy: the media.
In October, Paul Farhi of the Washington Post reported that the disdain for reporters at Trump rallies had turned into “outright hostility.” Members of the press contingent were met with boos, abusive slurs, and obscenities as they were merely trying to do their job.
“Reporters are now concealing or removing their press credentials when leaving the pen to avoid confrontations with Trump’s supporters,” Farhi said. “The atmosphere is particularly threatening to female reporters and to female TV reporters whose faces are well known, reporters say. (‘The camera draws the hate,’ as one put it.) Some reporters have wondered aloud about the need for more security, or at least more barriers to separate them from the crowd as they enter and exit Trump’s events.”
Trump sometimes even singled out reporters on the campaign trail, leading to targeted abuse and even death threats.
“MAYBE A FEW JOURNALISTS DO NEED TO BE WHACKED. MAYBE THEN THEYD STOP BEI[N]G BIASED HACKS. KILL EM ALL STARTING W/ KATY TUR,” one Trump supporter tweeted at NBC reporter Katy Tur after Trump repeatedly called her out during campaign rallies.
Tur wasn’t the only reporter who felt unsafe on the campaign trail.
“He was unhappy with some story I had done and he did a little impression of me on stage, and started talking about this terrible CNN reporter,” CNN’s Sara Turner said during the campaign. “Then he called me out by name. The next thing I knew, I had thousands of Trump fans turning around [and] jeering at me.”
In February, Paste Magazine published an article examining Trump’s impact on the media entitled “Should American Journalists Fear for Their Physical Safety?”
The lede summed it up: “Probably.”
It’s important to note that Trump himself has never body-slammed any reporters to the ground for asking a simple question about health care (though he did defend his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested and charged with simple battery of former Brietbart reporter Michelle Fields in March).
But the environment he cultivates around himself, and the casual rhetoric he uses —Trump once thanked his supporters for being “vicious” and “violent” in the lead-up to the election — has consequences.
As ThinkProgress has previously reported, Trump’s rhetoric fits into a pattern of what researchers refer to as “stochastic terrorism” —using suggestive language rhetoric to inspire radicals to carry out violent acts. In other words, it’s possible to spur others to violence without explicitly instructing them to do so.
And it’s not a coincidence that Gianforte was an ardent Trump supporter who went hunting with Donald Trump Jr. and campaigned beside Vice President Mike Pence. The Guardian’s Jacobs, who had covered the Montana special election extensively, reported before the alleged assault that Gianforte was “eager to embrace Donald Trump … and regularly talks about ‘making America great again’ and ‘draining the swamp.’”
It’s certainly not a surprise to see that Gianforte himself has “joked” about violence against the media in the past.
At one campaign event earlier this year, the Missoulian reported that a Gianforte supporter asked the candidate, “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”
After asking the question, the supporter turned to the reporter beside him and mimed strangling him. Gianforte reportedly smiled, before responding: “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.”
Ultimately, Gianforte might face zero political consequences for his actions.
Over half of registered voters in Montana cast their ballots before Wednesday. Gianforte’s opponent, Democrat Rob Quist, is still an underdog. Even though the race was tightening before Gianforte slammed a reporter to the ground, Gianforte could still win this election. And if he does win, it appears he’ll also be welcomed to Washington with open arms.
GOP leaders, including House Majority Leader Paul Ryan, are all stillsupporting Gianforte. Trump and Pence have not commented. Conservative pundits are spinning the story away.
Jacobs, who has also reported on Gianforte’s financial ties to Russia, approached a politician at a campaign event and asked a crucial policy question, one that Montana voters deserved to know the answer to.
In Trump’s America, that’s now viewed as a threat.
From Montana Public Radio
On Eve Of Election, Montana GOP Candidate Charged With Assault On Reporter
Jessica Taylor and Eric Whitney May 24, 2017 Updated on May 25th
The Montana special congressional race was roiled on the eve of Thursday’s vote after GOP nominee Greg Gianforte allegedly “body slammed” a reporter and was subsequently cited by local authorities.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office announced they were charging Gianforte with misdemeanor assault:
Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault (MCA 45-5-201). The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017.
According to audio posted by Ben Jacobs, a political reporter with The Guardian, he was attempting to ask Gianforte a question, ahead of a campaign event in Bozeman, about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the Republican health care bill, which showed that 23 million more people would be uninsured in 2026 if the bill were enacted.
In the recording, Jacobs can be heard asking Gianforte about the CBO score. Gianforte says he doesn’t have time and directs Jacobs to talk to his spokesman, then there is a scuffle and a crash.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte can be heard yelling. “The last guy did the same damn thing. Get the hell out of here.”
Gianforte’s campaign spokesman claimed in a statement that Jacobs interrupted an interview “without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions.”
“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,” Gianforte spokesperson Shane Scanlon said. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
That account from the campaign, however, appears to be contradicted by three Fox News journalists who had been in the room setting up for an interview with Gianforte:
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!”
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. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
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.
Jacobs tells Gianforte he broke his glasses and that he was going to report the incident to the police. He later called into MSNBC and said that he was getting his elbow — which may have been injured during the altercation — X-rayed at a nearby hospital.
In his statement on the Gianforte’s misdemeanor assault citation, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin, who has previously donated $250 to Gianforte’s congressional campaign, said that his “contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”
Shortly after the assault charges against Gianforte were announced, both the Billings Gazette and the Missoulian newspaper rescinded their endorsement of Gianforte Wednesday evening.
The incident comes less than 24 hours before voters in Montana were set to head to the polls in a race that is seen as a potential bellwether for the 2018 congressional midterm elections.
The race between Gianforte and Democratic nominee Rob Quist had already tightened in a state that President Trump won by 20 points last November. It’s unclear what effect the altercation might have on the contest, but at least one-third of voters have likely already cast their ballots early. The contest is to replace former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who Trump named his Interior secretary earlier this year.
Spending looks likely to reach $18 million in the fast moving, 85-day shootout, a record for the seat and double what was spent in the 2016 race. The candidates have each raised about $5 million, with more than $7 million being spent by outside groups.
Montana’s contest pits a wealthy businessman — Gianforte, who narrowly lost the race for governor last year — against Quist, a locally famous singer-songwriter and political neophyte.
Democrats were already hopeful that negative headlines from Washington, D.C., would give the Stetson-wearing crooner Quist the momentum he needs to score an upset — and that was before the altercation between Gianforte and the reporter on Wednesday evening.
But Republicans have held Montana’s House seat since 1996. The GOP is confident that Treasure State voters will stick with the party of Trump, who won Montana by 20 points in November.
Quist was slow out of the gate, taking a month to get a campaign ad on TV, and he didn’t get financial backing from the national Democratic Party until halfway into the 12-week race.
By contrast, Gianforte quickly won millions in support from the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, the NRA and allied national groups. Gianforte had campaign ads on TV days before he even secured his party’s nomination.
Gianforte has paired himself with aspects of the president’s agenda in this race — promising “to fight back against Washington, D.C.’s war on the West” — after distancing himself from then-candidate Trump last fall. Gianforte was the only Republican statewide candidate in Montana to lose in November, receiving the fewest votes of any GOP candidate in what was otherwise a party sweep.
In that campaign, Democrats successfully painted Gianforte as a “New Jersey millionaire” trying to buy the governorship.
Gianforte moved to Montana 24 years ago from Pennsylvania, starting a software company that Oracle purchased in 2011 for $1.5 billion. Gianforte spent $6 million of his own money running for governor, and has loaned his House campaign $1.5 million this time around.
(His former employee Steve Daines, also a Republican, won Montana’s U.S. House race in 2012 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014.)
Quist has attempted to demonize Gianforte for his wealth and out-of-state origins. In early ads, Quist defended himself against NRA attacks by polishing a vintage Winchester rifle, which he says he’s owned since “long before Greg Gianforte showed up from New Jersey.”
Late in the race, Quist pivoted to emphasizing Gianforte’s support for the House health care bill. On the day it passed, the Republican told reporters he would have voted against it. But on the same day, in a recorded phone call to party backers that was leaked to the New York Times, Gianforte said he was “thankful” that it passed.
Republicans attack Quist for a history of personal financial troubles. But the Democrat has attempted to turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse by saying his money problems are related to a botched surgery that rendered him indebted and uninsurable. Quist’s final TV ads say that he, like half of all Montanans, could lose health coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
There’s no reliable public polling, but this week Gianforte is telling his backers, “this race is closer than it should be.” Both his and Quist’s volunteers have fanned out across the state in advance of an unusual election day that falls on the Thursday before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Montana’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock picked the election date, the earliest allowed by law.
“The biggest hurdle for us has been trying to combat voter confusion,” said Rebecca Connors, clerk of Missoula County, the state’s second most populous, on Monday.
Just weeks before absentee voting began May 1, a bipartisan bill to conduct the election solely by mail-in ballot failed in the Republican-controlled state legislature.
“I feel like a lot of voters never found any resolution of how that outcome came, so we’re getting lots of calls,” said Connors.
Connors also notes that many traditional polling places won’t be open, they’re either already booked for school graduations, or too expensive to staff for county governments which struggled to meet 2016 election expenses.
Prior to Wednesday’s altercation, University of Montana political science professor Rob Saldin said Quist’s best shot hinges on a big Democratic turnout combined with low enthusiasm from Republican voters. But given the GOP’s superior numbers in Montana, “Gianforte has a much bigger margin of error,” Saldin said.
The Montana polls close Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.
Eric Whitney is a reporter with Montana Public Radio.
Behind the Montana special election “body slam” story is an important point about the AHCA
Updated by Tara Golshan May 24, 2017
Republican Greg Gianforte is up for election tomorrow in a special House race in Montana — and he, allegedly, decided to body-slam Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after a question about the projected effects of the health care bill Republicans passed earlier this month.
And there’s a way to almost make sense of it. Let’s walk through this:
Jacobs, according to the audio the Guardian released of the incident, asked Gianforte what he thought about the new report from the Congressional Budget Office on the House’s health bill. It’s a pretty innocuous question. (I asked about half a dozen Republican politicians the same question earlier in the day — though none of them had quite the reaction Gianforte did.)
But for Republicans like Gianforte, the answer is complicated. As it turns out, the updated CBO score looks bad — it estimated the number of uninsured would increase by 23 million in the first 10 years and make it much harder for those with preexisting conditions to obtain coverage — barely an improvement on the first draft of the bill Republicans considered.
Gianforte has publicly come out against the American Health Care Act, saying he would not have voted in favor of the version that passed the House, and, as Jacobs pointed out, that he was waiting to make further judgments after the CBO’s score. Privately, Gianforte expressed (in a leaked audio tape) that he was happy the Obamacare repeal and replace process is in motion, which Democrats took to mean that the House passed the bill.
There is no explaining why Gianforte allegedly chose to physically assault Jacobs, but the context around it clarifies just how high the stakes are with health care for Republicans in vulnerable districts.
The Montana special election is proving to be a much closer race than expected in such a deeply red state. And as Vox’s Jeff Stein explained, it’s not only President Trump’s scandal-soaked White House that’s gaining Democrats some ground. It’s policy — and specifically, health care:
Trump may be increasingly unpopular nationally, but Speaker Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act — which Trump has backed but the conservative vision for which entirely predates his rise — is far more politically toxic. The evidence is mounting in ongoing congressional campaigns. In the upcoming special elections in Georgia and Montana, Democrats’ closing pitches have had far more to do with defending Obamacare than attacking Trump, while the Republicans in those races look to the president for political cover.
Gianforte’s opposition, Democrat Rob Quist — a banjo player with no prior political experience — has been hitting Gianforte hard on health care. Stein explains:
There’s a good reason for Quist to go after the AHCA rather than Trump: The president remains popular in Montana, a state he won by 20 points. (Quist’s opponent, tech millionaire Greg Gianforte, is hugging Trump about as closely as possible.) The Medicaid expansion under Obamacare covered 70,000 Montanans, and the AHCA is polling in the mid-20s nationally, while the approval rating of Obamacare skyrockets.
This is also why House Democrats keep jeering that the American Health Care Act is going to lose Republicans the majority in 2018. (They literally sang “na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye” at House Republican as the AHCA passed.)
Democratic and Republican congressional campaign operatives will tell you it’s far too early to know what will actually happen in the midterm elections, but moderate Republicans who are concerned with coverage loss and represent districts that like Obamacare, but still voted for the AHCA, are already showing signs of just how hard this health care vote was for them.
Take Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who sits in an extremely vulnerable seat in 2018 — he called the new CBO score a “moderate improvement” and said he hopes the progress continues in the Senate.
Other Republicans, like moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, who was one of the Republicans who helped get the AHCA over the House finish line in May, resigned himself to just questioning the validity of the CBO report. Earlier this week, MacArthur said he would resign as co-chair of the Tuesday Group, the moderate Republican caucus, because they were just too “divided.”
The AHCA still has a long way to go — but it’s already on shaky ground. And apparently, as we saw in Gianforte’s case, it means Republicans are getting pestered with questions they don’t know how to answer.