Greg Gianforte, Montana’s congressman-elect, pleaded guilty and was sentenced today for assaulting a journalist. Gallatin County Judge Rick West declined to give Gianforte any jail time.
He was ordered to pay a $385 fine, do 40 hours community service, and enroll in 20 hours of anger management counseling. If Gianforte doesn’t break the law for the next 180 days, he can ask for his conviction to be removed from his record.
The sentence was for misdemeanor assault stemming from an altercation recorded by Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on May 24, one day before Gianforte won the special election for Montana’s U.S. House seat. It unfolded as Jacobs asked Gianforte for his position on health care legislation.
At the time Gianforte denied any wrongdoing.
Today, the wealthy software entrepreneur turned Republican politician approached the podium in the center of the room and asked the judge if he could speak to Jacobs.
“I just want to say I’m sorry. And, if and when you’re ready, I look forward to sitting down with you in D.C.,” Gianforte said.
After Gianforte entered his guilty plea, Jacobs was given the opportunity make a statement.
Jacobs accepted Gianforte’s apology, but said he was concerned about the tone of political discourse in the U.S. was becoming too “rancorous and vile.”
“There will always be fundamental political agreements in our society," Jacobs said. "However, these need not become personal and should never become violent. I just hope this court decision will send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse in our country.”
In a separate settlement agreement, to avoid Jacobs suing him, Gianforte donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Gianforte has also already paid more than $4,000 in restitution to Ben Jacobs. The misdemeanor assault charge carried with it the possibly of 6 months in jail and a $500 fine.
Legal experts say the sentence Gianforte received is not out of the ordinary for someone guilty of misdemeanor assault with a previously clean record.
Gianforte took questions from three reporters after his sentencing, where he made this statement.
“I look forward to putting this behind me. I have apologized to Mr. Ben Jacobs. He has accepted my apology. I’m grateful for that. Now I look forward to going to work in Washington,” he said.
At no time during today’s hearing or afterwards did Gianforte or his staff say why his campaign initially blamed the assault on “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist."
Several journalists who Ginaforte did not call on tried to ask that question as Gianforte and his staff walked away. As his staff members guided Gianforte away from the courthouse, a handful of protesters yelled after him, saying, "You assaulted the First Amendment; you should resign."
Ian Root, from Ennis, was among them the protesters. He held a sign that read ‘ Lock Him Up’.
“Greg Gianforte is an embarrassment to Montana. And it is shameful that we are sending him to congress. He should be locked up. If he is a congress person he should be setting an example for Montana,” Root said.
Gianforte is expected to be sworn in as Montana’s lone representative in the U.S. House later this month.
He has until November to complete his community service and anger management counseling
Later this week, Gianforte’s attorneys will file a motion attempting to block the judge's order for Gianforte to appear jail to collect booking information, which would include a mug shot and fingerprinting.