Republican candidate in Montana charged after allegedly 'body slamming' reporter

The incident took place on the eve of a special election in the state

Republican candidate in Montana charged after allegedly 'body slamming' reporter

Republican candidate for Montana's only U.S. House seat, Greg Gianforte. Picture by: Freddy Monares/AP/Press Association Images

A Republican election candidate in Montana has been charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly 'body slamming' a reporter on Wednesday.

The incident happened at Greg Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Montana on the eve of a special election to choose the state's new congressperson.

According to The Guardian, its reporter Ben Jacobs was asking Mr Gianforte questions about the Republican's controversial healthcare bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last month.

Audio of the incident appeared to capture the altercation, with Mr Gianforte shouting "get the hell out of here" after the scuffle.

Mr Jacobs is heard telling the congressional hopeful: "You just body slammed me and broke my glasses".

Jacobs' account was corroborated by a Fox News team that was also at the scene.

Reporter Alicia Acuna recounted: "Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. [We] watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. 

"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."

In a statement, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin explained that its investigation found there was "probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault".

The statement added: "The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017."

"Aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist"

The Gianforte campaign accused Mr Jacobs of entering the office "without permission" and aggressively shoving "a recorder in Greg's face".

In a statement quoted by The Guardian, a campaign spokesperson 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," it adds.

The special election was triggered after Montana's previous representative, Ryan Zinke, was appointed as US Secretary of the Interior. 

Mr Gianforte - a businessman who unsuccessfully ran for Montana governor last year - has been caught in a close race with Democratic candidate Rob Quist, who is an established country musician.

Wednesday night's incident prompted a number of local newspapers to pull their endorsement of Gianforte.

The Billings Gazette wrote: "We're at a loss for words.

"In no way would we want our readers or our community to believe we stood behind what appears to be an assault or an attack. We do not, and we do not endorse Gianforte."