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Gianforte Pleads Guilty, Gets Deferred Sentence

Greg Gianforte in Court
Louise Johns

Congressman-elect GregGianforte has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter on the eve of the state’s special election last month.

A Gallatin County judge sentenced Gianforte to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management classes and a $300 fine. He will serve no jail time as long as he has no further infractions in the next six months. The maximum penalty for misdemeanor assault is a $500 fine and six months in jail. 

Guardian Reporter Ben Jacobs has agreed not to file a civil lawsuit in exchange for Gianforte donating $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Before receiving his formal sentence, Gianforte apologized to Jacobs, who was in the courtroom.

"I just want to say I’m sorry, and, if and when you’re ready, I look forward to sitting down with you in DC," Gianforte said to him.

The statement Jacobs read to the court today is below. 

State and national Democratic party officials called on Gianforte to resign the U.S. House seat he won the day following the assault. He has said he looks forward to serving and helping to advance the agenda of President Donald Trump. No date has been set for him to be sworn in to Congress.

This story will be updated. 

Ben Jacobs' trial statement – June 12, 2017:

"On May 24th, 2017, I was doing my job. I am a reporter. I asked then-candidate Gianforte a question about the most important issue of the day: the cost of the Republican healthcare plan. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office had just released its cost estimate. Mr. Gianforte had repeatedly stated that he needed to see this figure before he could decide whether he supported a massive proposal to reshape one sixth of the U.S. economy.

I asked Mr. Gianforte a question in the same manner I have asked questions of hundred of politicians: congressmen, senators and even the man who is now our president. Mr. Gianforte’s response was to slam me to the floor and start punching me. He injured my elbow, broke my glasses and thrust me into a national spotlight I did not seek or desire. Mr. Gianforte then lied in a defamatory public statement in which he insisted that his unprovoked physical attack was somehow my fault.

Weeks passed and I then received a written apology from Congressman-elect Gianforte. He accepted his responsibility for his assault and his defamation. He acknowledged the importance of the free press and made a thoughtful contribution to protect journalists around the world. I have accepted his apology and fully expect his thoughtful words to be followed by concrete actions once he has taken his seat in Congress. I am confident that he will be a strong advocate for a free press and the First Amendment. And I even hope to be able to finally interview him once he has arrived on Capitol Hill.

If this incident were simply between myself and the Congressman-elect, that would be one thing. However, it has had national ramifications on our politics and our culture. While I have no doubt that actions like these were an aberration for  Congressman-elect Gianforte personally, I worry that, in the context of our political debate, they have become increasingly common. In recent years, our discourse has grown increasingly rancorous and our debate increasingly vile. This needs to stop.

There will always be fundamental political disagreements in our society. However, these need not become personal and certainly should never become violent. I hope this court’s decision can send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse and the important role of the free press and to help heal our political system."

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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