Montana Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly "body-slammed" a reporter to the ground on Wednesday at a campaign event, sparking controversy on the eve of the special election that's reportedly close. Now, a police investigation into Gianforte's alleged actions has been launched. Gianforte and his campaign have denied the allegations against him, claiming in a statement that the reporter was to blame for the incident.
The Gallatin County Sheriff's Office in Bozeman, Montana, where the alleged altercation occurred, said at a press conference on Wednesday evening that the department is "currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte."
Sheriff Brian Gootkin confirmed that multiple witnesses were present at the time of the incident, but have not yet been questioned by police. Ben Jacobs, the Guardian reporter who made the allegations, was treated by ambulance at the scene and is currently being questioned by police, Gootkin said. No charges have been filed, at time of writing.
Although Gootkin has announced that the department is thoroughly investigating the incident, including the audio tapes of the altercation that were published by The Guardian, some are questioning the sheriff's ability to remain unbiased, noting that he is a donor to Gianforte's campaign. This has been confirmed from Federal Election Commission filings; however, there is no indication yet that this will affect the investigation.
Brian Gootkin, the sheriff of Gallatin County, Montana, who is investigating the Gianforte-Ben Jacobs incident, is a Gianforte donor pic.twitter.com/3CuUbhr4wd— Reid J. Epstein (@reidepstein) May 25, 2017
Audio recordings from the incident depict Jacobs asking Gianforte his throughts about the Congressional Budget Office's recently released report on the American Health Care Act, a bill that Gianforte has declined to comment on publicly in the past. After Gianforte dodged the question, Jacobs attempted to ask him again when a loud crash can be heard. Gianforte then shouts, "I'm sick and tired of you guys!" while Jacobs shouts that Gianforte broke his glasses.
Jacobs claims that the congressional candidate "body-slammed" him, while Gianforte claims that the reporter shoved a phone in his face, "badgered" him with questions, and began a scuffle over the tape recorder that pulled both men to the ground. A Fox News crew that was present at the scene of the incident seems to corroborate Jacobs' version of the events. The crew reports that Gianforte "grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him."
The Montana special election, in which Gianforte is a candidate, takes place on Thursday, and while it remains to be seen how this incident will affect the race, the police investigation into Gianforte's actions may mean that he has even bigger things to worry about.
Ultimately, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.