HELENA, Mont. (CN) – The newest member of Congress apologized Wednesday for reportedly assaulting a journalist on the eve of his election and said he would contribute $50,000 to a nonprofit that protects press freedom.
Greg Gianforte, a Republican, was on the home stretch of his campaign for Montana’s sole U.S. House seat May 24 when, on the eve of his win over Democrat Rob Quist, got into an altercation with Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian.
Jacobs had asked Gianforte a question about President Donald Trump’s health care policy when Gianforte reportedly threw Jacobs to the floor, breaking Jacobs’ glasses. Gianforte went on to win the election, largely because of mail-in ballots that had been cast prior to the incident.
According to The Guardian, Gianforte apologized Wednesday in a letter as part of an agreement that settles any potential civil claims by Jacobs against Gianforte.
Gianforte still faces a misdemeanor assault charge in Bozeman, Montana, municipal court.
Although Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault, he denied culpability on the night of the assault and his spokesman had said it was Jacobs who instigated the incident. In his letter to Jacobs on Wednesday, Gianforte recanted his story about Jacobs causing the ruckus. Audio recordings of the altercation, which occurred at Gianforte’s election headquarters, reveal Gianforte telling Jacobs to “Get the hell out here.”
Following is the letter written to Jacobs, as posted on The Guardian’s website.
“Dear Mr. Jacobs:
I write to express my sincere apology for my conduct on the evening of May 24. My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. 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.
“Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you. I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.
“I understand the critical role that journalists and the media play in our society. 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. I acknowledge that the media have an obligation to seek information. I also know that civility in our public discourse is central to a productive dialogue on issues. I had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy. You were doing your job.
“In the hope that perhaps some good can come of these events, I am making a $50,000 contribution to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-profit organization that promotes press freedom and that protects the rights of journalists worldwide.
“I made a mistake and I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
Gianforte was due to appear in court on or before June 6, but asked for an extension and was granted one. He has until June 20 to appear on the assault citation.
Earlier this week, Gianforte filed for re-election in the 2018 race for Montana’s congressional seat.
Gianforte replaces Ryan Zinke, a Montana native who was elected to Congress two years ago. Zinke resigned in March to become President Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.