Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte (R-MT) has pledged $50,000 to a nonprofit press group to settle “any potential civil claims” against him.
A few weeks ago, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault after assaulting Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, when Jacobs pressed then-candidate Gianfort about healthcare legislation. The incident occurred the day before Montana’s special election to replace U.S. Rep Ryan Zinke (R-MT), who is now Interior Secretary in the Trump administration.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Gianforte also issued a letter of apology, calling his own conduct “unprofessional, unacceptable and unlawful” after Jacobs asked a “legitimate” question:
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.”
In the meantime, according to the Chronicle, Gianforte is still due to appear in Gallatin County Court to address his misdemeanor charge. Previously, Gianforte had until June 7 to appear. However, Gianforte asked for a two-week extension; he now has until June 20.
Gianforte faces a maximum of six months jail time and a $500 fine for his actions. According to a Gianforte spokesman, cited by the Chronicle, Jacobs emailed Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert saying he “would not object to” a “no contest” plea from Gianforte regarding his assault charges.
A “no contest” plea would mean Gianforte does not plead guilty to allegations but acknowledges sufficient evidence for a conviction.
Earlier this week, Gianfrote filed for re-election with the Federal Election Committee ahead of 2018’s race.