Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge on Monday and has been sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management. He must also pay a $385 fine.
Gianforte is guilty of entering into a physical altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of Montana’s special House election. The at-large congressional seat was vacated by former Representative Ryan Zinke after he was appointed by President Trump to be the secretary of interior. The Republican was charged with assault just hours before the May 25 election was to begin.
Jacobs had approached then-candidate Gianforte at his campaign headquarters in Bozeman to ask about the GOP healthcare bill. Gianforte responded angrily by body slamming Jacobs to the floor and punching him. Jacob’s glasses were broken during the scuffle. The incident was caught on tape and corroborated by Fox News Reporters who were standing nearby.
Despite the onslaught of bad press that followed – and the state’s three largest newspapers withdrawing their endorsements – Gianforte still emerged triumphant on election night. He defeated Democrat and folk singer Rob Quist by a six-point margin.
“You accepted responsibility. You apologized,” stated Judge Rick West while handing down his sentence. The judge acknowledged Gianforte’s remorse and also noted the Republican tech millionaire’s business accomplishments during the hearing.
Judge West has taken some heat from the left for his apparent soft sentencing of the Montana Republican. While initially calling for Gianforte to serve four days in jail – believing he could complete a work program as an alternative to actual jail time – Judge West reversed himself upon learning that the assault charge was not eligible for the work program. West then opted for community service hours and a fine. In explaining his reasoning, West stated. “Being a congressman-elect, having to spend any time in jail isn’t something you should do.”
For his part, Gianforte is going above and beyond to make up for his transgression. In a addition to the $385 fine, Gianforte reached a settlement with Jacobs a week earlier where he agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists – a worldwide nonprofit that protects journalists and promotes press freedom. Near the end of the court hearing on Monday, Gianforte spoke directly to Jacobs: “I just want to say I’m sorry, and if and when you’re ready, I look forward to sitting down with you.”
While the book is now closed for Gianforte regarding his criminal case – he isn’t completely out of the woods just yet. A group of press freedom organizations issued a complaint with congressional ethics officials on June 2. The Montana Republican could potentially face punishment from Congress.