Montana Republican admits his original story about assaulting a reporter was a lie

What Greg Gianforte said after winning an election was drastically different than the story his campaign told the day before.

Greg Gianforte prepares to go onstage at a hotel ballroom in Bozeman to thank supporters after winning Montana’s sole congressional seat on Thursday. In his speech, Gianforte apologized for a altercation at his campaign headquarters with a reporter on the eve of the special election. The altercation led to a misdemeanor assault citation. CREDIT: AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan
Greg Gianforte prepares to go onstage at a hotel ballroom in Bozeman to thank supporters after winning Montana’s sole congressional seat on Thursday. In his speech, Gianforte apologized for a altercation at his campaign headquarters with a reporter on the eve of the special election. The altercation led to a misdemeanor assault citation. CREDIT: AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan

After being declared the winner of Thursday’s special House election in Montana, Republican Greg Gianforte apologized for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the evening before.

“I need to share something from my heart here, and I just ask you to bear with me,” Gianforte told attendees at his victory event. “When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way. Last night, I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back.”

He continued:

I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I’m sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs. I also want to apologize to the Fox News team that was there, and I’m sorry to each one of you that we had to go through this. That’s not the person I am, and it’s not that way I’ll lead in this state.

https://twitter.com/ABC/status/868048571861319680

The day before, his campaign told a very different story about what happened after Jacobs asked for Gianforte’s reaction to the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the American Health Care Act (AHCA). (Gianforte managed to get through the campaign without taking a position on the bill.)

In a statement released immediately after the incident on Wednesday, a spokesman for Gianforte characterized Jacobs as the aggressor and smeared him as a “liberal journalist” who “created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

The statement said Jacobs “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face” and instigated physical contact with Gianforte.

“Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground,” the statement said, pinning blame for the ugly scene on Jacobs’ “aggressive behavior.”

But that story was taken apart a short time later by a team of Fox News journalists who witnessed the assault. One of them, Alicia Acuna, authored a story detailing how Gianforte, without any physical provocation, “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 reporter,” wrote Acuna. “As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’”

The Fox News journalists’ story, combined with Jacobs’ account, was apparently more persuasive to the Gallatin County sheriff than Gianforte’s campaign statement — even though the sheriff donated to Gianforte’s campaign. Hours after Fox News’ story went live, Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault. He’s due in court next month.

Gianforte’s apology on Thursday didn’t even allude to the statement his campaign released the day before. It served as tacit acknowledgement it was a lie.

While Gianforte felt compelled to apologize, some of his future colleagues in the House Republican caucus didn’t seem to think it was necessary. On Wednesday, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) blamed liberals for the assault, telling MSNBC that “the left has precipitated this tense, confrontational approach throughout the country in recent months. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) suggested Jacobs might have had it coming, saying, “it’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.”

Others cracked jokes.

Asked about the assault, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) said, “I think he’d be very welcome here, seems like a good guy,” and indicated he looked forward to Gianforte helping Trump and Republicans “drain the swamp.”

Trump — who never apologized for the numerous sexual assaults he was accused of during his campaign— didn’t issue a statement. But the voice of the president who has declared the news media as “the enemy of the American people” was used in Republican National Committee robocalls in which he called Gianforte “my friend” and “a wonderful guy.”

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence congratulated Gianforte on Friday morning.