Greg Gianforte: A look at the newly-elected Montana congressman accused of assaulting reporter

Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s special House election Thursday — just one day after he was charged with assaulting a journalist.

Gianforte beat his opponent by more than 24,000 votes out of nearly 270,000 ballots.

His win came on the heels of controversy after Gianforte was accused of physically assaulting a reporter who attempted to ask him about the House GOP’s health care legislation. Gianforte grabbed The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck and slammed him to the ground at a campaign event on May 24, according to Fox News’ eyewitness account.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office cited Gianforte with a misdemeanor assault. He must appear in court by June 7, a county clerk told Fox News.

Personal life

Gianforte, 56, raised his four children in Bozeman, Mont., along with his wife, Susan, according to his campaign website.

Gianforte cofounded software firm RightNow Technologies 20. It was sold to Oracle in 2012 for $1.8 billion, raising questions about just who got the money, the Billings Gazette reported in 2014.


At the time, Gianforte said he and his wife controlled about 20 to 25 percent of the stock, worth up to $400 million when Oracle bought the company.

His net worth is thought to be anywhere between hundreds of millions to more than $1 billion, according to the National Journal.

Gianforte's reported 2016 income ranged between $2.3 million to $15.7 million with assets ranging between $65 million and $315 million, Montana's KXLH-TV reported.

Gianforte ran as a Republican for Montana’s 2016 gubernatorial race but lost to the Democratic incumbent, Steve Bullock, in November.

Special election

Running as a Republican, Gianforte won Montana’s special House election May 25 to replace Ryan Zinke, the new Interior Department secretary. He ran against Democrat Rob Quist, a progressive cowboy musician with the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.


Although he had the backing of the White House, Gianforte himself admitted in the final week before the vote that “this race is closer than it should be.” And after his altercation with The Guardian reporter, it was unclear if Gianforte’s assault charge could sway voters at the last moment.

But about a third of eligible voters had voted early with absentee ballots — prior to the incident — and still others said it did not change their mind.

Following his victory, Gianforte took the opportunity to own up to the altercation and apologize.

“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way,” he said. “Last night I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back, and I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I am sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I am sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.”

‘Body-slamming’ incident

On May 24, as a Fox News crew was setting up for an interview with Gianforte at a campaign barbecue, Jacobs came into the room with his recorder and began to ask Gianforte for a comment on the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimate of the House health care legislation. Gianforte declined to comment and directed Jacobs to his spokesman.

But Jacobs persisted and that’s when the situation turned violent, according to witness accounts.


The Fox News crew in the room said Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” Gianforte also punched the reporter, according to witnesses.

In a statement, Gianforte’s campaign alleged that Jacobs “aggressively shoved a recorder” in the Republican candidate’s face and “asked badgering questions.” The statement also said Jacobs was asked to lower his recorder.

In the audio recording released of the incident, Gianforte cannot be heard asking Jacobs to remove a recorder.

“To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies,” Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who witnessed the altercation, said in her account.


The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported that Jacobs was evaluated in an ambulance at the scene and then transported to a local hospital. When he left the hospital, his arm was in a sling, according to the newspaper. Jacobs also said on the tape and in subsequent interviews that Gianforte broke his glasses.

In a statement, Gallatin Sheriff Brian Gootkin said the nature of Jacobs’ injuries was not enough to charge Gianforte with a felony assault. Gootkin also admitted that he contributed $250 to Gianforte in March.

“This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete,” he said.

Several lawmakers, including House Republicans, called on Gianforte to apologize following the altercation, but many GOP congressmen stopped short of asking the Montanan to suspend his campaign altogether.

"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,” he added.

If convicted, Gianforte can face up to six months in jail or pay a $500 fine.


In what the Billings Gazette called “without precedent,” it and other Montana newspapers pulled their endorsements following the altercation.

Gianforte canceled a previously scheduled interview with Fox News slated for the day of the election.

Russian ties

The Guardian reported in April that Gianforte has financial ties to multiple Russian companies — a controversial topic as the F.B.I. investigates the Trump administration’s own ties to Russia.

Gianforte, according to the Guardian, has nearly $250,000 shares in two index funds with substantial holdings in U.S.-sanctioned Russian firms.

The Obama administration put in place sanctions which covered the firms three years ago, the Associated Press reported.