US congressman-elect avoids jail for assaulting reporter

Republican Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters after being declared the winner at a election night party for Montana's special House election against Democrat Rob Quist at the Hilton Garden Inn on May 25, 2017 in Bozeman, Montana. — AFP pic
Republican Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters after being declared the winner at a election night party for Montana's special House election against Democrat Rob Quist at the Hilton Garden Inn on May 25, 2017 in Bozeman, Montana. — AFP pic

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WASHINGTON, June 13 — A Montana judge yesterday sentenced congressman-elect Greg Gianforte to community service, 20 hours of anger management and a fine, but no jail time, after pleading guilty to assaulting a reporter on the eve of his election.

Gianforte, a wealthy businessman, told a packed courtroom in Bozeman, Montana that he had apologized to reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian newspaper.

“Although it was not my intention to hurt him, I understand that Ben was injured during this contact,” Gianforte told the court.

The 56-year-old Republican was sentenced to six months of deferred jail time, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management sessions and $385 in fines and court fees for the misdemeanor assault that propelled him and his congressional race into the national spotlight.

“When you make a mistake, you’ve got to take full responsibility. That’s what I’ve done today,” Gianforte said after the hearing.

“This was not a proud moment, but I’m ready to move on.”

Gianforte was in the awkward position of attending a court hearing on assault charges — and potentially heading to jail — just before going to Washington to be sworn in as the lone representative from Montana.

Democrats had made it a tight race, painting it as a referendum on the first months of the presidency of Donald Trump, who had carried the western state by 20 points last November. But the Republican prevailed.

Jacobs, in the courtroom and reading from a prepared statement, said he “was doing my job” on May 24 when he asked the candidate a question about the health care bill working its way through Congress.

“Mr Gianforte’s response was to slam me to the floor and start punching me. He injured my elbow, broke my glasses and thrust me into a national spotlight I did not seek or desire,” Jacobs said.

Gianforte reached a settlement with Jacobs last week, in which he wrote an apology letter to Jacobs and donated US$50,000 (RM213,252) to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“I had no right to respond the way I did,” Gianforte wrote.

“You were doing your job.” — AFP

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