Prosecutors announced on Friday that U.S. Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana has agreed to plead guilty for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last month. Although a spokesperson for Gianforte’s campaign initially released a statement accusing the journalist of assault, several witnesses and an audio recording of the incident disproved Gianforte’s fictionalized version of events.
On the night before the special election to fill Ryan Zinke’s vacated seat, Jacobs asked Gianforte a question regarding the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring on the new health care bill. Instead of answering the question, Gianforte suddenly gripped Jacobs by the neck and slammed him to the ground without provocation.
“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs said while recording the incident on an audio file.
Following the incident, Shane Scanlon, a spokesperson for the campaign, released a statement falsely accusing Jacobs of grabbing Gianforte’s wrist and pushing them both to the ground. But according to witnesses, including journalists from Fox News and Buzzfeed, Jacobs never touched the congressional candidate before Gianforte abruptly body-slammed the reporter.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” recalled the Fox Newsreporter Alicia Alcuna. “Faith, Keith, and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”
Landing on his elbow and breaking his glasses during the fall, Jacobs was transported to the hospital while Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault. One month before the assault, Jacobs wrote an article reporting that Gianforte owns approximately $242,000 in shares with two index funds that are financially tied to Russian companies sanctioned by the U.S.
Due to the terms of a civil settlement reached on Wednesday, Jacobs agreed not to file a lawsuit against his assailant, while Gianforte wrote a formal letter of apology to Jacobs and pledged to contribute $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Although Jacobs agreed not to object against a plea of no contest to the assault charge, Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert recently announced that Gianforte plans to plead guilty in court on Monday. A plea of no contest means Gianforte would legally concede to the charge without admitting guilt, while a guilty plea admits committing wrongdoing.
“He is not going to be entering a nolo contendere plea,” Lambert stated on Friday. “He’s going to be pleading guilty.”
“Now that Greg Gianforte will admit to being a violent criminal, the case could not be more clear: Greg Gianforte is unfit to represent the people of Montana, and should decline to take the oath of office,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spokesperson Drew Godinich said in a statement.
Despite the fact that Gianforte assaulted a reporter, the congressional candidate defeated his Democratic opponent by more than 20,000 votes, according to the Montana Secretary of State. Last month, a broadcast journalist was arrested for simply asking Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price a question concerning health care, while a CQ Roll Call reporter was allegedly slammed against a wall for attempting to ask Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly a question about net neutrality.