WASHINGTON — Greg Gianforte, the millionaire Republican who on the eve of Montana’s special election for its U.S. House seat was accused of “body-slamming” a reporter, pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor assault, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
After initially sentencing Gianforte to four days in jail, Gallatin County Justice Court Judge Rick West reduced the penalty. Instead of jail time, Gianforte must perform 40 hours of community service, complete 20 hours of anger management training and pay $385 in fines and fees.
“I grabbed for (Jacobs’) wrist. A scuffle ensued and he was injured, as I understand it,” Gianforte told the court Monday, according to the Chronicle.
Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault after attacking Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs last month. Jacobs said Gianforte “body-slammed me and broke my glasses” after he asked a question about the Republican health care legislation.
In a statement following Gianforte’s sentence, Guardian U.S. Editor Lee Glendinning said the “decision should remind all those in positions of authority that a free press, like freedom of speech, is one of the building blocks of American democracy.”
“The Guardian thanks our colleagues across the whole media spectrum, whether liberal or conservative, for their solidarity and support for Ben Jacobs over the last few weeks,” Glendinning said. “We will continue to pose tough questions on behalf of our readers.”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Drew Godinich said that in light of Monday’s guilty plea, Gianforte, who won the election, is unfit to serve.
“Serving our fellow citizens as an elected leader should be one of the highest honors in our democracy,” he said in a statement. “Now that Greg Gianforte has pleaded guilty to this heinous violent assault, he has shown himself to be absolutely unfit for and unworthy of the honor of representing Montana in Congress. He should decline to take the oath of office.”
In an interview with reporters following Monday’s hearing, Gianforte said, “When you make a mistake, you have to take responsibility for it. That’s what I’ve done today.”
“I look forward to putting this behind me,” he added. “I’ve apologized to Mr. Ben Jacobs. He has accepted my apology. I’m grateful for that. And now I look forward to going to work in Washington.”
In the wake of the attack, however, Gianforte’s office blamed “liberal journalist” Jacobs. Spokesman Shane Scanlon said in a statement at the time that Jacobs barged into an interview in a private office and “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”
“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene,” Scanlon said.
Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who witnessed the confrontation, disputed Scanlon’s version of what unfolded.
“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna wrote on the Fox News website. She said she and her team “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man.”
Last week, Gianforte issued a lengthy apology to Jacobs, saying his actions were “unprofessional, unacceptable and unlawful.” Gianforte has said he will donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Jacobs accepted Gianforte’s apology, saying in a statement that he hopes “the constructive resolution of this incident reinforces for all the importance of respecting the freedom of the press and the First Amendment and encourages more civil and thoughtful discourse in our country.”
In an audio recording of the attack posted by The Guardian, Jacobs can be heard asking Gianforte about the recently released Congressional Budget Office report on the Republican health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. Then there’s a loud crash.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte says. “The last time you came here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here!”
“Jesus Christ,” Jacobs says. “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.”
“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte says again.
“If you’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d also like to call the police,” Jacobs says.
This article has been updated with more background information and reactions to the sentencing.
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