The Montana special election took a strange turn on Wednesday night after a reporter claimed that the Republican candidate assaulted him before a campaign event.
The candidate, Greg Gianforte, was charged with misdemeanor assault.
Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, tweeted around 7 p.m. that Republican candidate Greg Gianforte “body slammed” him, breaking his glasses.
The alleged incident took place at a campaign meet-and-greet in Bozeman after Jacobs entered a room where Gianforte was preparing for a television interview.
A Fox News reporter who was present during the incident later confirmed Jacobs’ account.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” reporter Alicia Acuna wrote in a post on Fox News’ website. She and two Fox News field producers then “watched in disbelief,” she said, “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!”
Afterward, the Guardian posted audio of the exchange between Gianforte and Jacobs.
BuzzFeed News reporters were at the event in Montana, and one was close to the scene but unable to see all of it.
In the audio recording, Jacobs can be heard asking the candidate for his opinion on the Republican healthcare bill. Gianforte shoos him off, replying, “we’ll talk to you about that later,” and directing the reporter to speak to campaign spokesperson Shane Scanlon.
After Jacobs presses Gianforte to answer, a scuffle and a loud crash can be heard, followed by someone yelling, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last time you guys did the same thing! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”
“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.
“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte says.
“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.
“Get the hell out of here,” the man says. Someone else adds, “You need to leave.”
Immediately following the incident, aides appeared to escort Jacobs out of the room, and then entered a private room with the candidate. Police arrived shortly after, and Jacobs was reportedly taken from the venue in an ambulance to be treated for his injuries.
“I’m going to get my elbow checked out,” Jacobs told MSNBC in a phone interview following the incident. “I landed on my elbow, and it’s less than comfortable. I’m making sure that it’s okay because I’m one-handed typing right now.”
The campaign did not return BuzzFeed News’ requests for comment.
Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, 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 this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.
At a press conference Wednesday evening, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that the investigation into the incident remains “active.” He asked media and the public to stop calling the county’s police dispatch center for information.
Authorities are still in the process of collecting witness statements to determine whether charges should be filed, Gootkin said. He estimated that there were roughly five people who witnessed the incident, including Jacobs and Gianforte.
Sheriff’s deputies have not conducted an interview with Gianforte beyond an initial interaction at the scene, Gootkin said, but will attempt to interview him Thursday morning.
“He has every right in the world to refuse to speak with us,” the sheriff added.
“I hadn’t heard that,” Quist tells reporters, in a video posted by the Washington Post’s David Wiegel. “So for me, I guess, that’s really not for me to uh, to talk about. I think that’s more a matter for law enforcement, I guess you’d say.”
Asked how the alleged incident might affect Thursday’s election, Quist replied, “I guess, again, that’s not for me to judge.”