Montana governor: It's 'unsettling on many levels' that candidate for GOP House seat lied about assaulting reporter

The Democratic governor of Montana accused Republican Greg Gianforte of lying on Thursday, as news of Gianforte’s attack on a journalist threatens to derail his campaign in a special election a congressional seat.

“It is unsettling on many levels that Greg Gianforte physically assaulted a journalist and then lied, refusing to take responsibility for his actions,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement posted to Facebook.

“Yesterday’s events serve as another wake up call to all Montanans and Americans that we must restore civility in politics and governing, and demand more from people who hold the public’s trust.”

Gianforte was cited for misdemeanour assault on Wednesday after allegedly slamming The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs to the ground and punching him during a campaign rally in Bozeman. Audio of the incident, as well as an eyewitness account from a Fox News crew in the room, suggested no physical aggression on Jacobs’s part before the alleged assault.

But Gianforte’s campaign spun the incident differently, arguing in a statement that Jacobs himself was to blame:

“Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground,” the statement read. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behaviour from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

The incident began after Jacobs pressed Gianforte for comment on the Congressional Budget Office’s recently released evaluation of the American Health Care Act. It occurred a day before Montanans vote on whether Gianforte or his Democratic opponent Rob Quist will fill a congressional seat vacated when President Donald Trump tapped former Rep. Ryan Zinke to be his interior secretary. Polls close at 8 p.m. local time Thursday.

With more than a third of ballots having been cast during early voting, it is unclear what kind of effect the incident will have on Gianforte’s chances on Thursday — something Bullock acknowledged in his statement.

“One thing is clear,” he said. “No matter what happens today, the actions of Gianforte do not reflect the values of Montana or its people.”

Bullock defeated Gianforte by 20,000 votes last year in Montana’s gubernatorial election.

Bullock isn’t the only prominent state Democrat to blast Gianforte on Thursday — he was joined by Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

“Part of the job representing the people of Montana is answering basic questions on important topics, topics such as how a dangerous healthcare plan could impact the very people you are trying to represent. It’s part of the job,” Tester said in a statement.

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