Journalists said a congressional candidate from Montana physically assaulted a reporter at a campaign event Wednesday night, just hours before the start of a special election for the state's only seat in the United House of Representatives.
Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs tweeted around 7 p.m. that Greg Gianforte, a Republican businessman whose campaign for House seat had been endorsed by Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr., attacked him and broke his glasses.
Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) May 24, 2017
The Guardian quickly posted an audio recording of the encounter. In the recording, Jacobs attempts to ask Gianforte about the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the Republican-backed American Health Care Act. Gianforte twice deflects the question, and Jacobs' third attempt to ask the question is interrupted by the sound of a scuffle.
"I'm sick and tired of you guys!" Gianforte shouts a few seconds later. "The last guy who came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here."
Alexis Levinson, a reporter for Buzzfeed who had also been present at the campaign event, said she'd witnessed the attack. According to Levinson, she'd seen Jacobs step into a room where a local television crew was preparing to interview Gianforte.
"All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben's feet fly in the air as he hit the floor," she tweeted.
Levinson said Jacobs left the room with his broken glasses in hand and was quickly ushered away by campaign staff. Pictures she posted minutes later showed an ambulance and sheriff's department vehicle outside.
This is the scene outside - pic.twitter.com/xAin0jkhFo
— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) May 24, 2017
In an era of extreme congressional partisanship, toeholds like the Montana seat are valuable ground for both Republicans and Democrats. The race between Gianforte and his opponent, Democrat Rob Quist, has been tight, and NPR reported that Republican groups had poured millions of dollars into anti-Quist advertising in service of their candidate.
Blake Montgomery, another Buzzfeed reporter, tweeted that Gianforte left his own event without speaking while deputies took witness statements.
Gianforte's campaign released a statement later in the evening that accused Jacobs of asking "badgering questions," aggressively shoving a recorder into Gianforte's face and refusing requests to lower it. No such conversation is heard in the Guardian's recording.
Gianforte's statement: pic.twitter.com/WVNdA1yZ8w
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) May 25, 2017