Gianforte pays $50,000 to press group to settle assault of Guardian reporter

Congressman-elect issues lengthy apology to Ben Jacobs over ‘unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful’ actions

Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who assaulted a Guardian journalist on the eve of his election to the US House of Representatives, has issued a full and unequivocal apology to the reporter and agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The congressman-elect apologized to the reporter, Ben Jacobs, in a letter received late on Wednesday as part of an agreement that settles any potential civil claims.

“My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful,” Gianforte wrote. “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.”

Gianforte said the $50,000 donation to the CPJ, an independent not-for-profit organization that promotes press freedom and that protects the rights of journalists worldwide, was made “in the hope that perhaps some good can come of these events”. He added: “I made a mistake and humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

Gianforte still faces criminal charges over the altercation. If found guilty, he could be fined up to $500 or face a jail sentence of up to six months. He was expected to appear in Gallatin County justice court this week but was granted an extension to 20 June, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

The assault occurred on 24 May, the night before a special election to fill the House seat vacated by secretary of the interior Ryan Zinke.

Gianforte reacted to a question from Jacobs about the Republican healthcare plan by “body-slamming” the reporter – throwing him to the ground, punching him and breaking his glasses. The incident was captured on audio by Jacobs and witnessed by a team of Fox News reporters, who corroborated Jacobs’s account.

The Gianforte campaign initially blamed Jacobs for the altercation, falsely claiming the reporter “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face”.

“Jacobs was asked to leave,” the Gianforte campaign statement released at the time said. “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.”

The Gianforte campaign’s account of the incident was contradicted by an audio recording Jacobs had of the incident and testimony from independent witnesses.

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” wrote Fox News reporter Alicia Alcuna in a first-hand account of the incident. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault that evening. The following day, he won the election against Democratic candidate Rob Quist. More than two-thirds of the ballots were cast by mail before news of the assault broke, according to the Missoulian.

At his election victory party, Gianforte apologized for his actions but did not address the false claims his campaign made about Jacobs. In his first post-election interview, with MTN News, Gianforte reiterated the apology but again did not directly respond to a question about why the campaign initially blamed the reporter.

However, in his letter to Jacobs on Wednesday, Gianforte appeared to make reference to his campaign’s erroneous statement.

“Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you,” he wrote. “I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.”

Gianforte’s apology continued: “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 had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy. You were doing your job.”

This article was published on TheGuardian.com