House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Greg Gianforte, the GOP House candidate charged with assaulting a reporter, should apologize but added that it is now up to voters in Montana to choose whether they want him as their representative in Congress.
"There's never a call for physical altercations," Ryan told reporters during his weekly press conference. "That is wrong and it should not have happened."
"I think he should apologize," Ryan added.
The incident occurred when a Fox News team was scheduled to interview Gianforte at his campaign headquarters. The team said Ben Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian, pressed Gianforte about the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act.
Gianforte told Jacobs to talk to his press officer. At some point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground, according to witnesses.
The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that there was probable cause to issue a citation, but the nature of the injuries “did not meet the statutory elements of a felony assault.”
If he’s found guilty, Gianforte faces a $500 fine and up to 6 months in jail.
Gianforte, a former software executive, had the slight edge over his Democratic challenger Rob Quist, a country music performer, to fill the vacant House seat leading up to Thursday’s election. The majority of voters were expected to have already cast their ballots by early voting so it is unclear how much Wednesday’s events will have on election results.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced that it would launch as many Facebook ads as possible about the incident, targeting Montana Democratic voters who might not otherwise vote Thursday. The committee also said Gianforte must quit the race and the Republican Party should publicly denounce him.
Three of Monatana’s biggest newspapers – The Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Independent Record - pulled their endorsement from Gianforte after an audio recording of the encounter went viral.
The editorial board at the Billings Gazette wrote, "We previously supported Gianforte because he said he was ready to listen, to compromise, to take the tough questions. Everything he said was obliterated by his surprising actions that were recorded and witnessed Wednesday."
Gianforte had been slated to appear on "America’s News Headquarters" with Sandra Smith at 2 p.m. but a representative for the candidate said he would not be doing any national interviews following Wednesday’s incident.