Greg Gianforte apologises to reporter, pledges $50K to charity

‘My response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful’

Greg Gianforte delivers his victory speech during a special congressional election in Bozeman, Montana. Photograph: Reuters

Greg Gianforte delivers his victory speech during a special congressional election in Bozeman, Montana. Photograph: Reuters

 

Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who assaulted a Guardian journalist on the eve of his election to the US House of Representatives, has issued a full and unequivocal apology to the reporter and agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The congressman-elect apologised to reporter Ben Jacobs in a letter received late on Wednesday as part of an agreement that settles any potential civil claims.

“My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful,” Mr Gianforte wrote. “As both a candidate for office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard.”

Mr Gianforte said the $50,000 donation to the CPJ, an independent not-for-profit organization that promotes press freedom and protects the rights of journalists worldwide, was made “in the hope that perhaps some good can come of these events”. He added: “I made a mistake and humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

Criminal charges

Mr Gianforte still faces criminal charges over the altercation. If found guilty, he could be fined up to $500 or face a jail sentence of up to six months. He was expected to appear in Gallatin County justice court this week but was granted an extension to 20 June, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

The assault occurred on May 24th, the night before a special election to fill the House seat vacated by secretary of the interior Ryan Zinke.

Mr Gianforte reacted to a question from Jacobs about the Republican healthcare plan by “body-slamming” the reporter – throwing him to the ground, punching him and breaking his glasses. The incident was captured on audio by Jacobs and witnessed by a team of Fox News reporters, who corroborated Jacobs’s account.

The Gianforte campaign initially blamed Jacobs for the altercation, falsely claiming the reporter “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face”.

“Jacobs was asked to leave,” the Gianforte campaign statement released at the time said. “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.”

Audio recording

The Gianforte campaign’s account of the incident was contradicted by an audio recording Jacobs had of the incident and testimony from independent witnesses.

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” wrote Fox News reporter Alicia Alcuna in a first-hand account of the incident. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”

Mr Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault that evening. The following day, he won the election against Democratic candidate Rob Quist. More than two-thirds of the ballots were cast by mail before news of the assault broke, according to the Missoulian.

As part of the settlement, Jacobs signed a release foregoing any potential civil claim against Mr Gianforte in consideration of the charitable donation.

“I have accepted Mr Gianforte’s apology and his willingness to take responsibility for his actions and statements,” Jacobs said in a statement.

A crowdfunding campaign to replace Jacobs’ broken glasses raised more than $7,500, which Jacobs requested be donated to the Committee to Protect Journalists as well.

Guardian Service