The Latest: GOP lawmakers say little about Montana candidate

In this March 6, 2017, file photo, Greg Gianforte, right, receives congratulations from a supporter in Helena, Mont. Montana voters are heading to the polls Thursday, May 25, 2017, to decide a nationally watched congressional election amid uncertainty in Washington over President Donald Trump's agenda and his handling of the country's affairs. (AP Photo/Matt Volz, File)

The Associated Press

BOZEMAN — The latest on the assault case against Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for a Montana congressional seat in a Thursday special election.:

5:15 p.m.: A county attorney in Montana says he will review the case involving a Republican congressional candidate accused of shoving a reporter to the ground on the eve of a special election.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said Thursday he will set aside celebrity and hype and look at the facts surrounding Greg Gianforte's altercation with Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian.

Lambert, who was elected as a Republican, says he knows Gianforte but not well. He sometimes encounters Gianforte at church, social events and GOP functions.

Sheriff's officials have cited Gianforte for misdemeanor assault in the Wednesday altercation.

Lambert, who has not donated money to Gianforte's campaign, says he will review the sheriff's decision to pursue a misdemeanor and not a felony.

4:15 p.m.: The sheriff who cited a Montana congressional candidate for misdemeanor assault has apologized for not disclosing that he contributed $250 to the Republican's campaign.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said Thursday that he should have revealed the donation at a previous news conference held after witnesses said candidate Greg Gianforte had grabbed a reporter by the neck on Wednesday and threw him to the ground at Gianforte's campaign headquarters.

Gootkin said the contribution had nothing to do with his duties as sheriff.

Gootkin said Gianforte left his campaign headquarters while deputies were investigating the case, and investigators later heard from Gianforte's attorney that they would need to contact him before speaking with Gianforte again.

Gianforte's campaign staff said the candidate plans to make a statement tonight and that he will not speak before that time.

3:45 p.m.: In a first from an official Republican group, the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee issued a statement affirming Gianforte, though it failed to address the candidate's current controversy.

"The Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee stands with Greg Gianforte and based upon the comments we’ve received from inside Yellowstone County and across the state, so do Montanans. The YCRCC (Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee) firmly believes that Greg Gianforte’s strong track record as a successful job creator and generous servant will shine in Congress. We look forward to his ideas and how we can help him make Montana great again."

3:40 p.m.: The sheriff who cited a Montana congressional candidate for shoving a reporter to the ground says the Republican was charged with misdemeanor assault because there was no serious bodily injury.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said Thursday that under Montana law, assaults that don't result in serious injuries or involve a weapon are considered misdemeanors. Assaults that cause serious physical injuries or involve weapons are treated as felonies.

Gootkin said he never considered pursuing a felony charge against Greg Gianforte based on evidence collected after the Wednesday incident.

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, didn't have any visible injuries when he spoke to "Good Morning America" on Thursday but said he was taking "a lot of Advil" for pain.

He said he trusted that investigators had made the right decision on how to handle the case.

1:18 p.m.: The Montana congressional candidate accused of assaulting a reporter hasn't been seen or heard from Thursday as voters go to the polls.

Repeated phone calls to Greg Gianforte's cellphone went unreturned Thursday. Twice it appeared someone picked up then immediately hung up.

His home in Bozeman is set back on property along the Gallatin River and isn't very visible from the road. Its gate was half-opened, with a sign thanking people for not trespassing.

People at Gianforte's campaign headquarters referred all questions to spokesman Shane Scanlon, who was not there. No one answered the door at Scanlon's home.

Gianforte has backed out of at least one planned television appearance. MSNBC's "MTP Daily" says he canceled on the show.

The Montana Republican Party, including chairman Jeff Essmann, have not issued statements or returned calls.

Noon: ACLU of Montana Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann released a statement that said in part: 

The ACLU of Montana condemns in the strongest terms yesterday’s apparent assault on reporter Ben Jacobs for doing his job on behalf of the public.Without a free press, government at all levels — from presidents to police officers — would rarely be held accountable to the people."

11:32 a.m.: Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a democrat, released a statement shortly before noon on Thursday.

"This is in the hands of law enforcement. But part of the job representing the people of Montana is answering basic questions on important topics, topics such as how a dangerous health care plan could impact the very people you are trying to represent. It's part of the job," he said in a release to The Gazette.

In addition to Republican figureheads like Paul Ryan, others in the party have weighed in on Gianforte. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse tweeted, "A big part of a public servant's job is teaching civics. If the First Amendment means anything, it means you can't body-slam a journalist."

Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis tweeted a statement from South Carolina Sen. Mark Sanford, who spoke more generally about the political climate: "There is total weirdness out there," he said.

11:03 a.m.: Democrat Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statement condemning Gianforte's actions.

“It is unsettling on many levels that Greg Gianforte physically assaulted a journalist and then lied, refusing to take responsibility for his actions. Yesterday’s events serve as another wake up call to all Montanans and Americans that we must restore civility in politics and governing, and demand more from people who hold the public’s trust,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “One thing is clear: no matter what happens today, the actions of Gianforte do not reflect the values of Montana or its people.”

10:19 a.m.:

10:09 a.m.: 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says the GOP House candidate in Montana charged with assaulting a reporter is "a wannabe Trump."

"That's his model, Donald Trump," Pelosi said of Greg Gianforte, the wealthy Republican running in Thursday's special election for Montana's sole House seat.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is calling for the Republican candidate in Montana's special House election to apologize after allegedly attacking a reporter and getting charged with assault.

Ryan says "that's wrong and should not happen."

But Ryan wouldn't say if Greg Gianforte should be barred from joining the House GOP conference if he wins Thursday's election. Instead Ryan said, "I'm gonna let the people of Montana decide who they want as their representative."

The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Congressman Steve Stivers, also weighed in Thursday. Stivers said: "From what I know of Greg Gianforte, this was totally out of character, but we all make mistakes."

9:45 a.m.: U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana republican and close friend of Gianforte's, issued this statement Thursday morning:

"I have confidence in local law enforcement. I do know Greg Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault and will leave the questions and answers to local law enforcement. I do not condone violence in any way."

A Daines spokeswoman declined requests for further comment. The Montana Republican Party has also failed to respond to requests from The Gazette on the morning of an election day that has many wondering how much the alleged assault will affect the returns.

Montana's secretary of state's office says 37 percent of registered voters had returned absentee ballots as of Wednesday.

Montana has just over 699,000 registered voters.

Mark Wicks, the Libertarian candidate in the race, issued a statement that reads in part:

"While details are still not entirely clear about what happened between Greg Gianforte and the Guardian reporter, it is clear that Greg Gianforte lost his temper when he shouldn’t have. Most days in Washington D.C. won’t go as planned and obstacles will arise daily."

8:40 a.m.: GOP lawmakers emerging from a closed-door caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday said they didn't know the facts about Republican Greg Gianforte being charged with misdemeanor assault.

A reporter from the Guardian accused the tech millionaire of slamming him to the ground and breaking his glasses in an altercation at Gianforte's campaign headquarters in Bozeman on Wednesday afternoon. The reporter had tried to ask Gianforte a question about the latest budget analysis of the GOP health care bill.

A few lawmakers did comment.

Asked if assaulting a reporter is appropriate behavior, California Rep. Duncan Hunter said, "Of course not. It's not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it."

Indiana Rep. Luke Messer said he wasn't sure whether the incident would hurt or help Gianforte in Thursday's special election for the open House seat.

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7:50 a.m.: The polls are open in a race for Montana's only congressional seat just hours after the front-running candidate was charged with beating up a reporter.

Republican Greg Gianforte has not appeared in public since he was charged with misdemeanor assault late Wednesday. A reporter from the Guardian accused the tech millionaire of slamming him to the ground and breaking his glasses in an altercation Wednesday afternoon at Gianforte's campaign headquarters in Bozeman.

Gianforte's camp issued a statement hours before the charge was filed disputing reporter Ben Jacobs' account. But an audio recording Jacobs made and a Fox News crew that witnessed the altercation back up Jacobs' version.

Three of Montana's biggest newspapers pulled their endorsements of Gianforte but did not endorse his opponents.

Jacobs told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he was doing his job and asking a question.

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5 a.m.: The Guardian reporter who authorities say was assaulted by a Montana Republican candidate for a U.S. House seat says he never touched the politician before he was thrown to the ground.

Ben Jacobs told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he was doing his job and asking a question of candidate Greg Gianforte as part of covering Thursday's special election.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault. He's accused of grabbing Jacobs by the throat and throwing him to the ground in his campaign office Wednesday night. Gianforte's campaign blamed Jacobs, saying the reporter was being aggressive and grabbed Gianforte.

Jacobs said Thursday of Gianforte's account that "the only thing that is factually correct ... is my name and place of employment."

Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist are seeking to fill the U.S. House seat left vacant when Ryan Zinke resigned to join Trump's Cabinet as secretary of the Interior Department.

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12:30 a.m.: Thursday's special election for Montana's sole congressional seat got a last-minute twist when the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, was charged with misdemeanor assault.

Greg Gianforte was cited for grabbing a reporter by the throat and throwing him to the ground in his campaign office Wednesday night. The reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, was asking Gianforte about the Republican health care bill. Three Fox News employees witnessed the attack, which was also captured on an audio recording.

Gianforte's campaign blamed Jacobs for the incident.

Many voters cast their ballot early so it'll be hard to know the impact of the charge on the election results. Authorities said Jacobs' injuries weren't severe enough for a felony assault charge.

Gazette staff contributed to this report.

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