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Republican candidate charged with assault after ‘body-slamming’ Guardian reporter

Audio of Greg Gianforte assaulting Ben Jacobs corroborated by Fox News journalists in the room, who described nominee slamming him to the ground

The Republican candidate for Montanas congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the states special election, breaking his glass and shouting: Get the hell out of here.

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly body-slammed the reporter.

He took me to the ground, Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. I think he whaled on me once or twice He got on me and I think he reach me This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey witnessed the incident at Gianfortes campaign headquarters in Montana, according to an account published on the Fox News website. After Jacobs asked Gianforte his topic, Acuna wrote: Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.

Faith, Keith and I watched in skepticism as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began hollering something to the effect of Im sick and tired of this! To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs indicate any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after dedicating statements to local sheriffs deputies.

Jacobs subsequently reported the incident to the police. The Gallatin county sheriffs office said on Wednesday night it had completed its investigation and that Gianforte had been issued with a charge of misdemeanour assault.

Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin county sheriffs office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault, sheriff Brian Gootkin said in a statement. The nature of the traumata did not fulfill the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin county justice tribunal between now and 7 June 2017.

A statement by campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon blamed Jacobs for the altercation, saying that he entered the office without permission, aggressively jostle a recorder in Gregs face, and began asking badgering questions.

Jacobs was asked to leave, the statement reads. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Gregs wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.

Its unfortunate that this aggressive behaviour from a liberal journalist made this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.

Scanlons account iscontradicted by audio of the abortive interview recorded by Jacobs, as well as the Fox News account. The audio does not capture Jacobs being asked to leave or lower his recorder, but does contain an apparent reference to the Guardians previous attempts to report on Gianforte.Im sick and tired of you guys, Gianforte told. The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?

Yes! You just violated my glass, Jacobs responded.

Ben Jacobs with his broken glasses being carted off in the ambulance. Photograph: Ben Jacobs for the Guardian

The last guy did the same damn thing, Gianforte told.

You merely body slammed me and transgressed my glass, Jacobs said.

Get the hell out of here, Gianforte screamed.

At a press conference on Wednesday evening, sheriff Brian Gootkin said that there had been four witnesses to the altercation, in addition to Gianforte and Jacobs. Gianforte briefly spoke with sheriffs deputies in accordance with the altercation but has not been interviewed. Gootkin said that he was not aware of any video of the incident. He also requested that reporters and members of the public stop calling Gallatins 911 dispatch.

According to campaign finance filings, Gootkin donated $250 to Gianfortes campaign in March. Gootkins subsequently statement acknowledged the contribution but said it had nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.

Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning said in a statement: The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist while reporting on the Montana special election.

We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben Jacobs and our team of reporters for the issues to they ask and the reporting that is produced.

The altercation took place at Gianfortes campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana. Gianforte was in a side room with a local television news crew when Jacobs attempted to ask his topic, according to Jacobs.

I decided there was no damage in asking one question, and the worst thing that could happen was they would tell me to go to hell, Jacobs said.

Jacobss account was also partly confirmed by BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson, who wrote on Twitter that she had been in an adjacent room during the incident.

This happened behind a half closed door, so I didnt see it all, but heres what it looked like from the outside Ben walked into a room where a local Tv crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte. All of a sudden I heard a giant accident and insured Bens feet fly in the air as he made the floor. Heard very angry holler( as did all the volunteers in the room) sounded likeGianforte

Levinson told the Guardian by phone that before the incident, she overheard Gianfortes faculty telling Jacobs that the campaign was upset with the Guardians previous reporting and that the candidate is very likely to not have time to talk to him. Jacobs then entered the side room to try to talk to Gianforte, whose campaign has been backed by robocallsto voters from Trump and his vice-president, Mike Pence.

On Tuesday, the Guardian published the most recent episode of its video series Anywhere but Washington about the Montana special election. The video includes two a case where Gianforte refused to be interviewed by reporter Paul Lewis. Video producer Adithya Sambamurthy said Wednesday that he and Lewis had been blindsided by the candidates unwillingness to answer questions, because they had been in contact with the campaign spokesman prior to their trip. Gianforte eventually agreed to speak with the Guardian for the video.

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