The Republican candidate for Montana's sole congressional seat, Greg Gianforte, is accused of misdemeanor assault for grabbing a reporter by the neck and throwing him to the ground Wednesday.
As Montana voters go to the polls Thursday in a special election, U.S. politicians are reacting to news of the confrontation.
An Associated Press reporter publicized the reaction from one such politician, local U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-50th District).
According to AP reporter Mary Clare Jalonick, Hunter told her, "It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it."
House Speaker Paul Ryan called for Gianforte to apologize, but said he wouldn't stop Gianforte from joining Congress if he wins the election.
"There is no time when a physical altercation should occur," he said, adding, "I think he should apologize."
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin announced Gianforte would face charges about six hours after the attack on reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian.
Gianforte was in a private office preparing for an interview with Fox News when Jacobs came in without permission, campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said.
The Fox News crew watched in astonishment as, after Jacobs pressed him on the GOP health care bill, "Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him," Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna wrote in an article. She added that Gianforte then began to punch Jacobs.
In an audio recording posted by the Guardian, the reporter asks the congressional candidate about the GOP's health care bill, which was just evaluated hours earlier by the Congressional Budget Office.
"We'll talk to you about that later," Gianforte says on the recording, referring Jacobs to a spokesman.
When Jacobs says that there won't be time, Gianforte says "Just--" and there is a crashing sound. Gianforte yells, "The last guy who came here did the same thing," and a shaken-sounded Jacobs tells the candidate he just body-slammed him.
"Get the hell out of here," Gianforte says.
Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist, who declined to comment, are seeking to fill the state's seat in the U.S. House left vacant when Ryan Zinke resigned to join Trump's Cabinet as secretary of the Interior Department.
Three Montana newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte in the wake of the incident, with the Billings Gazette writing "Everything he said was obliterated by his surprising actions."
The Gianforte campaign Wednesday night released a statement blaming the incident on Jacobs. It contends he "aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face and began asking badgering questions" before being asked to leave.
Gianforte asked Jacobs to lower a phone that was being used as an audio recorder, then tried to grab it, the campaign said in a statement. Jacobs then grabbed Gianforte's wrist and both fell to the ground, Scanlon said.
The 45-second recording does not contain a request from Gianforte that Jacobs lower his phone. Acuna, the Fox News reporter, wrote that "at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte."
The sheriff's office said Gianforte has until June 7 to appear in court on the charge.
Gianforte would face a maximum $500 fine or 6 months in jail if convicted. The statement added that Jacobs' injuries did not meet the legal definition of felony assault.
The Guardian is a British liberal newspaper that opened a U.S. edition 10 years ago. Its U.S. editor, Lee Glendenning, said in a statement: "The Guardian is deeply appalled by how our reporter, Ben Jacobs, was treated in the course of doing his job as a journalist while reporting on the Montana special election. We are committed to holding power to account and we stand by Ben and our team of reporters for the questions they ask and the reporting that is produced."