BOZEMAN – In his first interview since being cited for assaulting a reporter on the eve of winning election as Montana’s only U.S. House member, Republican Greg Gianforte told MTN News Friday that he’s ready to go to work – and repair the damage from the alleged assault.
“It wasn’t right, the way I treated (the reporter), and that’s why I took responsibility,” he said in an interview at his Bozeman home. “That’s why I apologized.
“When you make a mistake, you take responsibility, you own up to it. … I think it’s the way we repair relationships and move forward.”
Gianforte, 56, a software entrepreneur and Bozeman businessman, won the May 25 special congressional election with a shade over 50 percent of the vote. Democrat Rob Quist, a musician from Creston, had 44 percent, and Libertarian Mark Wicks, a farmer-rancher from Inverness, had 6 percent.
The election was called to fill the seat vacated by Republican Ryan Zinke, who resigned March 1 to become U.S. Interior secretary.
On the eve of the election, at a campaign event in Bozeman, Gianforte allegedly roughed up a reporter for the British newspaper, the Guardian, as the reporter questioned him about a Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
A national Fox News crew waiting to interview Gianforte that evening witnessed the exchange, and reporter Alicia Acuna said Gianforte grabbed the reporter, Ben Jacobs, near the neck, threw him to the ground and started punching him.
The Gallatin County sheriff’s office cited Gianforte for misdemeanor assault. He has until next Wednesday to appear in county Justice Court on the charge.
Gianforte told MTN News Friday that he’ll announce his plea next week.
The incident with Jacobs garnered intense national news coverage last week, as did the election. Until Friday’s interview with MTN News, Gianforte hadn’t talked to any media since the May 24 altercation.
When asked why his campaign’s statement after the altercation appeared to blame the reporter, Gianforte said he’d rather focus on “taking responsibility for my actions, and that’s what I’ve done.”
He also said he’d like to see “a return to more civility (in politics), on both sides, honestly.”
“The role of the press is extremely important,” Gianforte said. “And as a public official, I need to make myself open and available, to sit down, and address the issues that come up. …
“As I said at the beginning, (the altercation) is not who I am, it’s not going to define my leadership for the state, and I look forward to working, going forward, to represent all of Montana.”
Gianforte apologized to Jacobs by name on the night of the election, but said he hasn’t spoken directly to the Guardian reporter.
Gianforte said he expects to be sworn into office later this month, after his election is certified June 15 by state election officials.
Once he gets to Congress, Gianforte said he wants to tackle “drain the swamp” issues he emphasized during the campaign, such as creating term limits for federal legislators and barring members of Congress from becoming lobbyists.
Gianforte acknowledged that both issues are a long shot for passage, but that “we need to have that discussion.”
Yet he also said he’ll be asking business groups and others across the state for suggestions on smaller steps the federal government can take to make it easier for “people to prosper here in Montana and protect our precious way of life.”
On other issues, Gianforte Friday reiterated positions and goals he outlined during the campaign:
- He opposes the current version of a Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” saying he’s not convinced it does enough to reduce health-care premiums, protect rural access to health care or protect people with pre-existing health conditions.
He also said it doesn’t do anything to lower prescription-drug costs.
- He supports President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change accord. The accord puts “regulations ahead of jobs,” he said, and could harm Montana industries like coal, oil or other fossil fuels.
- He wants to impose “fiscal discipline” in Washington, D.C., and look for ways to cut federal spending. But Gianforte also said if budget cuts proposed by the president harm Montana, he’ll “always be on Montana’s side.”
- He supports reviewing the status of national monuments, including the Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana. Gianforte said he wants to hear more from people living near the monument about its impacts, and whether the designation should be changed.
Above all, however, Gianforte pledged that he’d be pursuing objectives based on the wishes and desires of Montanans.
“I just want to say I’m honored; I want to be a voice for all of Montana,” he said. “My door’s open and I look forward to hearing from you. … I think the best way to campaign is do my job and show results for the people of Montana, and that’s my intention.”