Documents released by law enforcement officials in Montana on Friday show that Greg Gianforte, then the Republican candidate in the state’s special congressional election, told police in May that a reporter from the Guardian had grabbed his wrist during a physical altercation at his campaign headquarters, blaming the “liberal media” for “trying to make a story.”
His statement appears to contradict the apology he later issued to Ben Jacobs, saying the reporter “did not initiate any physical contact with me,” raising questions about whether the congressman was truthful with authorities.
Travis Hall, a spokesperson for Gianforte, referred The Washington Post to a statement given to the Associated Press, in which he said the information in the documents was “nothing new.”
“No one was misled, and anyone who says otherwise is mistaken. Greg took responsibility for his actions and is focused on serving the people of Montana.”
Gianforte won Montana’s lone U.S. House seat 24 hours after the assault and in June, he pleaded guilty to charges that he assaulted Jacobs and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management classes and a $385 fine in court costs, according to the Associated Press.
The documents from Gallatin County law enforcement, made public for the first time Friday, provide more details about the incident on May 24, which was witnessed by other journalists, captured on audio and made national headlines.
Gianforte had been preparing for an interview with Fox News when Jacobs came into the room and, according to an audio recording of the incident published by the Guardian, asked Gianforte to responds to the Congressional Budget Office score of the Affordable Care Act.
Sounds of the ensuing physical altercation can be heard in the audio, where Jacobs also says that his glasses were broken.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte says. “The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”
Jacobs soon tweeted “Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses.”
Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017
Gianforte’s campaign initially denied Jacobs’ claims, instead calling the reporter the aggressor.
The police report details Gianforte’s version of events, where he said Jacobs “stuck a microphone in my face” and asked “obnoxious questions.”
“I probably shouldn’t do it but I reached out for his phone . . . he grabbed my wrist, he spun, and we ended up on the floor . . . so he pulled me down on top of him,” the report quotes Gianforte as saying.
Gianforte, according to the report, made the statement: “when he grabbed my arm . . . kind of . . . grabbed my wrist and pulled me into him . . . we spun, hit the table . . . ”
The “liberal media . .is trying to make a story,” Gianforte told police, according to the report.
But police interviews with other witnesses told a different story.
A journalist from Fox News said in a published account that, “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte”
Fox News field producer Faith Mangan told police: “I’ve never seen anything in my years of covering politics like that . . . that blew my mind.”
Soon after the incident, the Gianforte campaign released a statement that is similar to the version Gianforte had told police:
“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,” the statement reads. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
— Whitney Bermes (@wabermes) May 25, 2017
In his apology to Jacobs, Gianforte took “full responsibility” for the incident, saying “you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you.”
Gainforte’s comments to police are not a crime, Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert told the Associated Press.
“The main thing here is he was charged with assaulting Ben Jacobs and pled guilty to that,” the county attorney said.
This incident is not the first time Gianforte had a tense encounter with the press. An Helena Independent Record published an editorial after the assault saying the paper was “sick and tired” of his “incessant attacks on the free press.”
Steven Rich and Katie Mettler contributed to this report.