Press groups want Congress to investigate Gianforte 'body slam'

Is there a need to make a federal case out of a simple assault charge against a congressional candidate who attacked a reporter?

Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte had a confrontation with a reporter for the Guardian newspaper the day before he won a special election to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Ryan Zinke.  The reporter, Ben Jacobs, was physically assaulted by Gianforte after walking into an interview the candidate was about to give to Fox News and asking him about the GOP health insurance plan. 

Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault, not a federal crime.  But national press groups want Congress to investigate the incident.

N.Y. Daily News:

The groups suggest Gianforte violated the House's code of official conduct when he allegedly assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. The groups also say Gianforte violated the code when he issued a news release that was contradicted by eyewitness accounts and an audio recording made by the reporter during the fracas.

"Amid a climate of escalating hostility toward the press it is essential for the House to send a clear message to its members and to the nation that hostile treatment of the press will not be tolerated or ignored," said Gabe Rottman, the Washington director of PEN America, one of several groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, seeking an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

After its evaluation of the complaint, the ethics office can make a recommendation to the House Ethics Committee. The press groups said they also sent a letter to the committee reminding it of its obligation to open an investigation within 30 days of any member being charged with a crime. They also sent letters to President Trump. 

In an interview with CBS affiliate KXLH on Friday, Gianforte apologized for the alleged assault and said he is ready to get to work. 

"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."

In a statement issued after the incident, Gianforte's campaign spokesman, Shane Scanlon, said Jacobs entered the candidate's office without permission and "shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave."

The eyewitness whose story went viral after the incident, Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, has changed her story significantly since the assault was first reported.  But there is no doubt that the candidate instigated the incident and that it constituted an "assault" according to the law.

But Gianforte was not a congressman at the time – and technically still isn't.  He won't be sworn in until later this month.  So if you're going to investigate Gianforte's actions one day before the election as an ethics violation, why not investigate other congressmen and senators who might have been arrested for assault – or any crime, for that matter – prior to their assuming office?

Reporters are not whitelighters.  They have no more exalted standing than any other citizen.  What happened to Jacobs was inexcusable, and the congressman has apologized for his actions.  He will likely receive a fine and community service when he appears before a judge.

But taking a simple assault charge and turning it into a federal investigation is hardly necessary.  No one called for an investigation when Democrat Rep. Bob Etheridge committed an assault of a conservative journalist on camera.  Where were the press groups then?

Methinks they are quite selective in their outrage.

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