(JTA) — Republican congressman Greg Gianforte of Montana initially told police that Ben Jacobs made physical contact with him before he assaulted the reporter in May.
The statement contradicts accounts by Fox News journalists who witnessed the attack and a widely publicized recording of the incident made by Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian who was trying to question the then-candidate on the eve of a special election in Montana.
In addition, in an apology letter sent to Jacobs in June as part of an agreement that settled any potential civil lawsuits, Gianforte acknowledged that the reporter did not initiate contact with him.
Gianforte’s account of the incident was made public in a police report released Friday. According to the report, he told police in May that Jacobs had grabbed his wrist during a physical altercation at his campaign headquarters, blaming the “liberal media” for “trying to make a story.”
Gianforte was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management for body slamming Jacobs hours before the opening of the polls for a special election to fill the seat held by Ryan Zinke, who was named secretary of the interior by Trump. Jacobs had asked Gianforte a question about a GOP health-care bill.
Jacobs, who is Jewish, had his glasses broken in the March 24 attack. Gianforte was also assessed a $385 fine and a six-month suspended jail sentence by the Gallatin County justice court in June after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge. He could have faced a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail.
Gianforte, a tech millionaire who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, also donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as part of his settlement with Jacobs.
Following the incident, Shane Scanlon, a spokesman for Gianforte, said the reporter “grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.”
In his apology letter to Jacobs, the congressman wrote: “My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. 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.”
The letter also said: “Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you. I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.”