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Reporter says Montana candidate Greg Gianforte's account of alleged assault is false

Montana GOP candidate charged
Montana GOP candidate charged for allegedly body-slamming reporter 03:11

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- The Guardian reporter who authorities say was assaulted by a Montana Republican candidate for a U.S. House seat says he never touched the politician before he was thrown to the ground. 

Ben Jacobs told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he was doing his job and asking a question of candidate Greg Gianforte as part of covering Thursday's special election.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault late Wednesday. He's accused of grabbing Jacobs by the throat and throwing him to the ground in his campaign office earlier Wednesday night.

Montana GOP candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly "body slammed" a national political reporter 03:18

"I approached the congressman. I asked him about the CBO score and he shortly thereafter sort of, you know, repeated the question," Jacobs said, referring to the Congressional Budget Office's assessment of the effects of the Republican health care bill passed by the House. "He grabbed my recorder, and next thing I knew I had gone from being vertical to being horizontal."

Gianforte would face a maximum $500 fine or 6 months in jail if convicted. A statement by Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin added that Jacobs' injuries did not meet the legal definition of felony assault. The sheriff's office said Gianforte has until June 7 to appear in court on the charge.

Hours after the incident, Gianforte's campaign blamed Jacobs, saying the reporter was being aggressive and grabbed Gianforte. In a statement, spokesman Shane Scanlon said Gianforte asked Jacobs to lower his recorder, an exchange that does not appear in Jacobs' audio recording of the encounter. Scanlon also dubbed Jacobs a "liberal reporter" who "created this scene."

"The only thing in the Gianforte statement that is factually correct is my name and place of employment," Jacobs said of Gianforte's account on "Good Morning America" Thursday. 

An account by a Fox News reporter who was in the room and witnessed the encounter corroborates Jacobs' recollection.

When asked if he would pursue legal action against Gianforte, Jacobs said, "I haven't even begun to think about it."

"I still have an election to report on in 12 hours, so that's the first priority," Jacobs said on ABC. "I still have a job to do ... I still have copy to file."

Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist are seeking to fill the U.S. House seat left vacant when Ryan Zinke resigned to join Trump's Cabinet as secretary of the Interior Department. Democrats launched last-minute ads attacking Gianforte for the alleged assault.

In Washington, members of both parties reacted to the eleventh-hour twist in the race. 

Asked by CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes during a press conference whether Gianforte should withdraw from the race, House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Gianforte to apologize.

"There's never a call for physical altercations," Ryan said. "There is no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press, or just between human beings. So that was wrong, and it should not have happened."

But Ryan said he would "let the people of Montana decide who they want as their representative" when asked whether he would allow Gianforte to be seated if he wins.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, called Gianforte a "wannabe Trump."

"Language like that, treat[ing] people harshly like that -- that's his model. Donald Trump is his model," Pelosi told reporters at a weekly press conference. "We've really got to say, 'Come on, behave.' That was outrageous."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which began running ads about the incident, called on Gianforte "to immediately withdraw his candidacy" in the wake of the alleged assault.

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