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Tuesday December 10th, 2019 4:59AM

Gianforte apologizes to reporter for assault before election

By The Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Newly elected U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana issued an apology letter Wednesday and said he plans to donate money to a journalism advocacy organization as part of a settlement agreement with a reporter he is accused of assaulting.

In exchange, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs agreed not to sue Gianforte over the attack, and he will not object to Gianforte entering a "no contest" plea to the misdemeanor assault charge the Republican faces from the May 24 encounter.

Jacobs tried to ask Gianforte about the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the Republican health care bill as Gianforte was preparing for a television interview. Gianforte, according to Jacobs at the time, "body slammed" him to the ground and broke his glasses. Gianforte then told Jacobs to "get the hell out of here," according to an audio recording by Jacobs.

That night, Gianforte was charged with assault. The next day, Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist to win the special congressional election to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as Montana's only congressman. Gianforte is expected to be sworn in later this month.

Gianforte's letter says he takes full responsibility for the encounter and that Jacobs was just doing his job.

"Notwithstanding anyone's statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you," Gianforte's letter says.

The Gianforte campaign's initial statement the night of the encounter from spokesman Shane Scanlon blamed the "aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist."

Gianforte will contribute $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists as part of the settlement.

Jacobs said in a statement that he accepts Gianforte's apology.

"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," Jacobs said in his statement.

Gianforte put out a statement that said he takes full responsibility for his actions and that he and Jacobs "are both ready to move on."

Gianforte is due in Gallatin County Justice Court by June 20 to face the assault charge. He received an extension for that court appearance while the settlement was being worked out.

A "no contest" plea would allow Gianforte to concede to the criminal charge without admitting guilt. The charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine upon conviction.

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