Key Montana newspapers pull Gianforte endorsement after incident

The Billings Gazette wrote an editorial late Wednesday declaring that it has rescinded its endorsement of GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte after allegations that he assaulted a news reporter.

The paper called its last-minute decision a move “without precedent.” The column started: "We're at a loss for words."

“If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn't condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn't condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn't accept it from a man who is running to become Montana's lone Congressional representative,” the paper wrote.

The incident occurred Wednesday evening at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters. The candidate was approached by Ben Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian, and was asked about the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act.

Jacobs apparently persistent and—according to a Fox News team there— Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”

Alicia Acuna, the Fox News reporter, wrote that she “watched in disbelief” as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.

A statement from Gianforte's campaign later said, "after asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. 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. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."

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.”

Federal records show that the sheriff donated $250 to Gianforte's congressional campaign in March. In his statement, Gootkin confirmed the donation but said, "This contribution has nothing to do with our investigation, which is now complete."

The Missoulian, another paper that had endorsed Gianforte, wrote, "there is no doubt that Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn’t land him in jail, also shouldn’t land him in the U.S. House of Representatives."

Gianforte is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between Wednesday night and June 7. He would face a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail if convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report