“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault,” said Sheriff Brian Gootkin in a statement. “The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.” Gianforte received the citation on Wednesday night, and must answer it in Gallatin County Justice Court by June 7. If convicted, he faces up to six months in jail, or a fine of $500, or both.
The citation for assault was an eleventh-hour twist in a race where as many as two-thirds of the ballots had already been cast. Several of the state’s largest newspapers, including The Billings Gazette, The Missoulian, and The Helena Independent Record withdrew their endorsements of Gianforte. “This incident is not Montana. It's not America,” said the Gazette. “It's not who we are, and attacking — literally — those with whom we disagree cannot be justified, tolerated or explained away.”
Jacobs released an audio recording of the encounter with Gianforte on Wednesday night, which seems to confirm that a physical confrontation indeed took place. “I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte can be heard saying. “The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.” Gianforte then asked Jacobs whether he wrote for the The Guardian, to which Jacobs replied, “Yes! You just broke my glasses.” “The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said again.
Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed News who was present at the time, has confirmed much of Jacobs’s account. Although Levinson tweeted that she didn’t witness the entire incident, she described how it looked from behind “half a closed door.” From Levinson’s point of view, “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.” Levison wrote that she “heard very angry yelling,” which sounded like it was coming from Gianforte.
Later in the evening, a crew from Fox News published an article saying they, too, witnessed Gianforte attack Jacobs. While their account was consistent with that of Levinson and Jacobs, it also claimed that Gianforte punched Jacobs and grabbed his neck:
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!”
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith, and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and [Shane Scanlon], who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
The crew added that they did not witness any physical aggression on Jacobs’s behalf, and were cooperating with local authorities.