There are many questions lingering today in the wake of the assault charges filed by the Gallatin County Sheriff against US Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte.
The Republican candidate for US Congress is running in a very important and very close special election in Montana, and although 250,000 votes have already been mailed in, this incident could spell disaster for the Gainforte campaign.
A special election was called when Ryan Zinke vacated his seat. The race has attracted national attention and $17 million has been spent during the campaigns.
Gianforte's alleged attack on The Guardian's Ben Jacobs on the eve of this election couldn't have come at a worse time for the GOP.
Did he disqualify himself from gaining a seat in the US Congress?
Or will another political figure using strong arm tactics get themselves elected to a federal government position?
One of the questions surrounding the investigation of this incident was addressed by Sheriff Brian Gootkin. He felt compelled to answer a question after the press conference in Bozeman, Montana.
On the official Gallatin County Sheriff's website he states:
"Earlier this evening I conducted a press conference about an incident that occurred at Greg Gianforte’s campaign headquarters. After the press conference it was brought to my attention that people were commenting on a contribution that I made to the Gianforte campaign. I did contribute $250.00 on March 23, 2017. This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete."
The fact that Sheriff Gootkin had to respond to this allegation publicly on the county website shows just how sensitive of an issue his contributions could become.
He is apparently claiming that his support of Gianforte's campaign for Congress did not affect the outcome of the county's investigation, but can we really be assured of that?
He's obviously an enthusiastic supporter of the alleged assailant. That fact can not be denied, which is why he acknowledged it on the Sheriff's department website.
In answer to a question regarding whether Gianforte leaving scene of the incident constituted fleeing the scene of a crime, he answered:
"That'll be a part of the investigation."
Video of Press Conference:
Well, since the investigation is now complete according to his own official statement, we can therefore conclude that Sheriff Gootkin did not consider it an offense that Gianforte left the scene of a crime after police responded.
I maintain that if the perpetrator had been a homeless black man, he would have been pursued and arrested immediately, of that there is no doubt.
Instead of an imminent pursuit, the Sheriff's department deputies took their time and Gootkin waited to make a decision on whether to arrest Greg Gianforte.
But there was no arrest. The GOP candidate for Congress was simply issued a "citation" as in the case of a traffic fine.
Let's be clear here:
The difference between felony and misdemeanor assault is huge!
Ask anyone who's faced the "three strikes and you're out" policy or who has tried to apply for employment…
Gianforte was taken to task by the editorial board of the Missoulian newspaper on April 27th after the candidate made a statement inferring that he was opposed to the US press.
The Missoulian headline read:
"We're Not The Enemy"
Reporter Ben Jacobs recounts the incident with Gianforte:
Jacobs claimed he was injured and sought medical assistance, yet Gootkin claims the attack did not rise to the level of a felony offense. Jacobs tweeted that his glasses were broken by Gianforte's assault.
Why he is being charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony assault?
Why wasn't Gianforte immediately arrested?
At the very least, the treatment of political candidates and campaign officials has been handled with "kid gloves" in several cases where Republicans have allegedly assaulted journalists.
Gianforte is completely unapologetic. He claims the physical contact was initiated by Ben Jacobs.
Greg Gianforte's campaign released this official statement on the alleged assault:
"Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."
-Shane Scanlon, spokesperson for Greg for Montana.
Greg Gianforte's lawyers can attempt to claim self defense in order to avoid a sentence. They will have to prove that Jacobs made aggressive physical contact with the candidate. The success of that defense will depend upon the stories of the four witnesses and the testimony of the alleged victim.
Denying the assault will be extremely difficult since three Fox News employees have already made a public statement: Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey.
Here's Acuna written statement:
"Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of 'I'm sick and tired of this!'"
“Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’ ... To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”
The Fox News crew have been very clear in their statements that they did not see any aggressive physical moves by Ben Jacobs.
By the way, “body slamming” someone can be potentially lethal if the victim sustains a head, neck or back injury. If Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands, that could be a “choke hold” which is considered “deadly force” when used by police.
BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson was also a witness:
“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 crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”
Levinsion tweeted that she heard Gainforte shouting angrily.
In reality, Gianforte faces up to 6 months in jail but you know he would get the minimum, and probably a suspended sentence. That's the way "justice" works in the US when it comes to public figures, especially bad cops and politicians.
As I tweeted earlier today, a pattern emerges here of a lack of response on the part of law enforcement agencies when Republican political campaign managers and candidates assault reporters. Remember the case of Corey Lewendowski?
Donald Trump's campaign manager denied the incident ever happened but eventually Lewendowski was charged by the Jupiter, Florida police department with "simple battery."
Trump himself suggested that Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields had lied about the issue.
He even dismissed her bruises saying, "How do we know they weren't there before?"
Subsequently, Fields and four other employees resigned from Breitbart. She claimed the website didn't support her rights as a journalist.
Recently, Public News Service reporter Daniel Heyman was arrested at the West Virginia state capitol while trying to ask questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price at the West Virginia state capitol. The West Virginia ACLU has called for the charges against the journalist to be dropped.
Security guards pinned reporter John Donnelly against a wall after he tried to question FCC Chairman Michael O'Rielly.
Reporters Without Borders currently ranks the US as 43rd in the world in terms of press freedom (World Press Freedom Index 2017). https://rsf.org
If these incidents of assaults, harassment and arrests of journalists continue, it's obvious that our ranking will drop even further on their 2018 report.
RWB, Committee To Protect Journalists & the #ProtectJournalists campaign are lobbying the United Nations to appoint a special “Protector” to oversee the rights of journalists across the world. The Secretary General says he will focus on this issue. https://t.co/ckjg4iTPy1
Statement by Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning:
“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 questions they ask and the reporting that is produced.”