Newly elected Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana) has formally apologized to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for assaulting him the night before his election, and will donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists as part of a civil lawsuit settlement.
Gianforte’s apology letter acknowledged his assault on Jacobs as a “mistake.” It had been described by Jacobs at the time as a “bodyslam” and witnesses reported seeing Gianforte take Jacobs down by the neck.
“My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful,” 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.”
Gianforte still faces criminal assault charges and is due in court next month. He could be fined up to $500 or be sentenced to up to six months in jail, if found guilty, according to Politico.
Jacobs accepted the apology Wednesday, the Guardian reported.
“I hope 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,” Jacobs reportedly said.
Gianforte’s letter, however, only vaguely addressed the untrue statements made immediately following the May 24 incident, when his campaign falsely accused Jacobs of not only of being aggressive, but also initiating the aggression.
“Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you,” Gianforte wrote. “I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.”
Shortly following the incident, campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon had said that Jacobs “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face” and asked “badgering questions,” at which point Greg “attempted to grab the phone.” Jacobs, it was falsely alleged, then “grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away,” bringing both men down.
“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” Scanlon said just hours before Gianforte won election to the US House.
“I understand the critical role that journalists and the media play in our society,” the freshman congressman wrote in his letter.
“Protections afforded to the press through the Constitution are fundamental to who we are as a nation and the way government is accountable to the people.”
CPJ will also receive the $7,500 donated to a crowdfunding campaign to buy Jacobs a new pair of glasses, as Gianforte broke his, the Guardian reported.
Gianforte is also the subject of a complaint filed on June 2 with the congressional ethics office by a coalition of press freedom advocates, according to the Guardian.
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