(JTA) — Republican congressman Greg Gianforte of Montana told police that reporter Ben Jacobs made physical contact with him first, before he assaulted Jacobs when the reporter asked him a question in May.
The statement contradicts eyewitness accounts and a recording of the attack by then-candidate Gianforte made by Jacobs on the eve of a special election in Montana.
A team of Fox News journalists waiting to interview Gianforte witnessed the incident, and Jacobs made an audio recording of it.
In addition, an apology letter sent to Jacobs in June as part of an agreement that settles any potential civil lawsuits, Gianforte acknowledged that the reporter did not initiate contact with him.
Gianforte’s account of the incident was made public in a police report released Friday.
Gianforte was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management for body slamming Jacobs hours before the opening of the polls for a special election to fill the seat held by Ryan Zinke, who was named secretary of the interior by Trump. Jacobs had asked Gianforte a question about a GOP health-care bill.
Jacobs, who is Jewish, had his glasses broken in the March 24 attack. Gianforte also was assessed a $385 fine and a six-month suspended jail sentence by the Gallatin County justice court in June after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge. He could have faced a maximum $500 fine or six months in jail.
Gianforte, a tech millionaire who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, also donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as part of his settlement with Jacobs.
Following the incident, Shane Scanlon, a spokesman for Gianforte, said the reporter “grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.”
In his apology letter to Jacobs the congressman wrote: “My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. 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.”
The letter also said: “Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you. I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility.”