Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte has agreed to pay $50,000 to a nonprofit press group to settle any potential civil claims arising from his election-eve assault of a reporter.
The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday night that Gianforte, 56, issued a letter of apology to its reporter Ben Jacobs, whom the candidate “body slammed” at his campaign headquarters on May 24. Gianforte’s letter said his response to Jacobs’ “legitimate” question was “unprofessional, unacceptable and unlawful.”
The Guardian said Jacobs received the letter late Wednesday night and that it is part of an agreement that settles any potential lawsuits.
“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,” Gianforte wrote.
Despite an initial statement from Gianforte’s campaign shortly after the incident that blamed Jacobs, Montana’s Republican congressman wrote that “notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you,” he wrote.
Gianforte said he is making a $50,000 contribution to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit that promotes press freedom and protects the rights of journalists worldwide.
“I understand the critical role that journalists and the media play in our society,” Gianforte wrote. “Protections afforded to the press through the Constitution are fundamental to who we are as a nation and the way government is accountable to the people.”
“I acknowledge that the media have an obligation to seek information,” Gianforte continued. “I also know that civility in our public discourse is central to a productive dialogue on issues. I had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy. You were doing your job.”
The Guardian on Wednesday issued a statement from Jacobs: “I have accepted Mr. Gianforte’s apology and his willingness to take responsibility for his actions and statements. I hope the constructive resolution of this incident reinforces for all the importance of respecting the freedom of the press and the First Amendment and encourages more civil and thoughtful discourse in our country.”
Following an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Gianforte was cited with misdemeanor assault. While initially ordered to appear in Justice Court on the charge by June 7, Gianforte was granted an extension and now has until June 20 to make his initial appearance.
The extension came after Gianforte’s attorneys filed a motion Tuesday afternoon, asking for a two-week extension of Gianforte’s original June 7 deadline to appear.
The motion also requested that Gallatin County Justice Court Judge Rick West set a specific date for Gianforte to appear. However, West’s order says Gianforte can appear at any open court dates on or before June 20.
Justice Court holds open court on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, meaning Gianforte currently has five opportunities to appear before the new deadline.
If found guilty, Gianfote faces a maximum of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
A statement from Gianforte’s spokesman Wednesday night included an email from Jacobs to Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert. The email indicates that Jacobs would not object to Gianforte pleading “no contest” to the pending charges. A “no contest” plea typically means that a defendant does not admit the allegations but agrees that there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction.