MISSOULA, Mont., May 24 (Reuters) - Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was accused of physically assaulting a reporter on the campaign trail on Wednesday, the eve of a special election to fill the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ben Jacobs, a political correspondent for the U.S. edition of The Guardian newspaper, said in a Twitter post that Gianforte had “body slammed” him, breaking the reporter’s eyeglasses, at a campaign event in Bozeman.
“There was a local TV crew there when Gianforte body slammed me. Audio is posting soon @GuardianUS,” Jacobs tweeted.
The allegation could not be immediately confirmed, but the candidate countered that Jacobs had instigated an altercation.
Gianforte’s campaign issued a statement saying a physical confrontation with Jacobs occurred when the reporter entered the candidate’s office “without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”
“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” the written statement from campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said. “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 statement concluded: “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”
CNN played an audio recording purporting to have captured the sound of the incident, in which a voice believed to be that of Gianforte is heard yelling: “I‘m sick and tired of you guys ... the last guy did the same damned thing.”
After loud scuffling noises are heard, the voice yells: “Get the hell out of here,” and another voice, presumably that of Jacobs, is heard saying that Gianforte had just broken his glasses.
Another political writer, Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed News, who was at the campaign event, tweeted that Jacobs had walked into a room where a local TV crew was set up for an interview with the Republican candidate.
“All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor,” Levinson tweeted. She said she then heard yelling that sounded like Gianforte.
She said Jacobs emerged from the room “holding his broken glasses in his hand and said: ‘He just bodyslammed me.'”
Levinson said Gianforte then retreated to another room with an aide and “closed the door.”
Gianforte, a tech executive, is running against Democrat Rob Quist, a banjo-playing political novice who hopes to pull off a surprise victory in the Republican-leaning state.
The two men are vying for the House seat vacated when President Donald Trump named Ryan Zinke as U.S. interior secretary.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement it “is currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte. We will provide a press release with more information when appropriate. The investigation is ongoing.”
Quist, attending another campaign event in Missoula, declined to comment on early reports of the incident involving his Republican rival. (Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney)