Thursday’s special election to fill Montana’s vacant at-large congressional seat has been thrown a political curve ball after GOP candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly roughing up a reporter Wednesday night.
In a bizarre twist, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, appearing on MSNBC last night, suggested this was the result of President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of the media as “the enemy.”
Also, three major Montana newspapers – the Helena Independent Record, Billings Gazette and the Missoulian – have rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte.
What this legal brouhaha means to Gianforte’s potential to replace Ryan Zinke, who is now the Trump administration’s Interior secretary, will not be known until the ballots are counted after the special election. Gianforte is running against Democrat Rob Quist in a campaign that has been so far seen as a possible referendum on the Trump administration.
According to an account of the incident in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Gianforte was in private office at his campaign headquarters in Bozeman when reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian came in “without permission.” The candidate was preparing for an interview with a Fox News crew, which witnessed the event.
Jacobs reported began questioning Gianforte about the Republican health care bill to replace Obamacare when the GOP candidate “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” according to Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna. Then Gianforte apparently punched Jacobs.
But according to the Bozeman newspaper, Gianforte campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said in an email that, “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.”
The misdemeanor assault charge was announced late Wednesday night by Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin. If convicted, Gianforte could face a maximum $500 fine and six months in jail.
Jacobs went on Twitter and accused the candidate of body slamming him and breaking his glasses.
Meanwhile, the WaPo’s Rubin is getting some criticism of her own from Newsbusters, which reacted to her assertion that, “The fish rots from the head. The tone of the politics of the country is set by the President of the United States.”
Newsbusters observed, “So, Jennifer, let’s talk about your fish analogy. If you don’t want to blame the President for all this, here’s two examples of things you’ve said that haven’t exactly been helpful to creating a healthy discourse. On December 11, 2016, you referred to people selected for Trump’s cabinet as not just ‘billionaires’ and ‘generals’ but ‘ignoramuses’ as well. How classy!”
Both Gianforte and Quist claim to be pro-gun rights, and the Democrat even did a campaign advertisement showing him putting a bullet through a television set with a Model 94 Winchester lever-action rifle.