You are here

Montana Republican Greg Gianforte Is Sentenced in Assault on Reporter

14 June 2017
1332 reads
Greg Gianforte, a Montana Republican, was sentenced on Monday to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management classes for assaulting a reporter the night before he won a seat in the House of Representatives last month.

Appearing in Gallatin County Justice Court in Montana, Mr. Gianforte told Judge Rick West that it was not his intention to hurt the reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, on May 24, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

“I grabbed his wrist,” said Mr. Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. “A scuffle ensued, and he was injured, as I understand it.”

The judge called his actions “totally unacceptable” but spared him jail time. He gave Mr. Gianforte a six-month deferred sentence and ordered that he pay $385 in court fees and fines.

“This was not a proud moment, but I’m ready to move on, and we have a lot of work to do in Washington,” Mr. Gianforte said outside court, Reuters reported.

The sentence was a “very typical result” in a simple assault case, Barry J. Pollack, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said on Tuesday. He said the deferred sentence serves as a “sword over the defendant’s head” to ensure that he complies with the conditions set out by the judge and gets the services he needs.

If Mr. Gianforte does not violate the terms of his deferred sentence, he can seek to have the charge dismissed and the file sealed after six months. He must complete his community service by Nov. 28. Marty Lambert, the Gallatin County attorney, said Mr. Gianforte could choose which organization to serve from a preapproved list of nonprofits, including the Lions Club, an animal shelter and the local fairgrounds.

Page Pate, who teaches law at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., wrote in an email that the sentence was “reasonable and consistent for someone in a case like this if the person has no prior criminal history, has accepted responsibility for what he did, and is otherwise a law-abiding citizen.”

Mr. Jacobs did not respond to messages for comment on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for him referred to a statement he read in court.
In it, he outlined the events leading up to the assault. He said asked Mr. Gianforte about the cost of the Republican health care plan during a campaign event in Bozeman, Mont.

“I asked Mr. Gianforte a question in the same manner I have asked questions of hundreds of politicians: congressmen, senators and even the man who is now our president,” the statement said. “Mr. Gianforte’s response was to slam me to the floor and start punching me. He injured my elbow, broke my glasses and thrust me into a national spotlight I did not seek or desire.”

“There will always be fundamental political disagreements in our society,” his statement continued. “However, these need not become personal and certainly should never become violent. I just hope this court’s decision can send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse in our country, the important role of the free press and the need to help heal our political system.”

Neither Mr. Gianforte nor his lawyer, William Mercer, were immediately available to comment on Tuesday. Mr. Gianforte also paid Mr. Jacobs $4,464.97 in restitution that covered, among other expenses, his emergency room visit and his glasses, Mr. Lambert said.

Mr. Gianforte, a businessman, won the state’s lone seat in the House of Representatives last month, defeating Rob Quist, a Democrat and country music singer.

The assault — Mr. Jacobs said he was “body-slammed” — was seen by some as part of a trend of aggressive confrontations and attacks against journalists. Critics said the antipathy toward the press has been stoked by President Trump, who has railed against the news media.

Carlos Lauría, a senior program coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists, said on Tuesday he was uncomfortable with sentence but declined to elaborate on what he thought would be more appropriate.

“The message it sends to the rest of the world, it does not feel right to me,” he said. “This is unacceptable behavior by someone who would be a candidate for Congress.”

Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy for the Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund, said in an email that a more severe sentence was merited.

“The decision sends a message to others — that violence toward reporters will not be taken seriously by law enforcement and the courts,” he wrote. “Many recent attacks against reporters specifically target those who question the Trump administration’s policies. This has had a chilling effect against the type of hard-hitting, investigative reporting people in America need.”

Lynn Walsh, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said she thought the judge’s sentence was appropriate and was in keeping with similar cases.

She hoped that the case would be investigated by the House Committee on Ethics and the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The society, PEN America, Free Press Action Fund and Reporters Without Borders on June 2 filed letters with the groups asking them to investigate. Representatives from the office and committee declined to comment on Tuesday.

In a letter this month, Mr. Gianforte apologized to Mr. Jacobs and said his actions toward the reporter had been “unprofessional, unacceptable and unlawful.” He promised to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group for press freedoms and journalists’ rights.

Mr. Gianforte apologized to Mr. Jacobs again in court and said he looked forward to meeting with him later.

“I am confident that he will be a strong advocate for a free press and the First Amendment,” Mr. Jacobs said in court. “And I even hope to be able to finally interview him once he has arrived on Capitol Hill.”

Photo source: