May 24, 2017 10:19 pm
Updated: May 26, 2017 10:31 am

Republican congressional candidate accused of ‘body slamming’ journalist

LISTEN: Audio allegedly captures an altercation between Republican candidate Greg Gianforte and a political reporter

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A Republican congressional candidate in Montana has been accused of physically assaulting a reporter.

Voters in Montana will go to the polls Thursday to replace Ryan Zinke, who left Congress to join Donald Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.

The hotly-contested election has grabbed national attention as some consider it to be an early referendum on Trump’s presidency.

WATCH: Montana Republican apologizes in victory speech for assaulting reporter

On Wednesday, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte was being questioned by Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs about that day’s health care announcement, when the journalist said he was “body-slammed” by the politician.

The newspaper posted audio of the alleged confrontation on its website Wednesday.

In the audio, Jacobs questioned Gianforte when the candidate, a tech billionaire, erupted.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte said as sounds of a commotion could be heard in the background. “The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.”

“The last guy did the same thing. You with the Guardian?” Gianforte asked.

“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs responded.

“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said.

“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs replied.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte could be heard telling Jacobs.

WATCH: Nancy Pelosi calls Greg Gianforte a “Donald trump-wannabe”

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NBC News spoke to Jacobs shortly after the incident who said he had spoken to police and was having his elbow checked out.

Jacobs told the TV network he had been trying to obtain a one-on-one interview with the candidate but saw a moment to ask him a question about health care while Gianforte was doing an interview with a local network.

“I just figured he was standing around there and I wanted to reach out and get his response to  the CBO score,” Jacobs said. “He’d been holding off his opinion on health care at least on this front until he saw the CBO score…

“Next thing I know, I’m being body slammed. And he’s on top of me for a second, my glasses are broken, it’s the strangest moment in my entire life reporting.”

Jacobs went on to say, “He grabs my recorder and my phone – I’m pretty sure he’s on top of me wailing for a second and then screams at me to get the hell out.

WATCH: Sheriff outlines charges against Montana candidate

Gianforte’s campaign issued a statement saying a physical confrontation with Jacobs occurred when the reporter entered the candidate’s office “without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”

“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” the written statement from campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said. “Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.”

The statement concluded: “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

Buzzfeed reporter Alexis Levinson said she was standing outside the door when she witnessed the exchange.

Through a series of tweets, she gave her account of the incident.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement it “is currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte. We will provide a press release with more information when appropriate. The investigation is ongoing.”

Gianforte, a tech executive, is running against Democrat Rob Quist, a banjo-playing political novice who hopes to pull off a surprise victory in the Republican-leaning state.

WATCH: Trump congratulates Montana Republican on ‘great’ Congressional seat victory

Republicans have held Montana’s single House seat for two decades, and Gianforte was still favored in a state that Trump won by more than 20 percentage points in last year’s presidential election.

But both sides say the House race as surprisingly tightened as Quist has focused on sharp criticism of the Republican effort to repeal and replace former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement it “is currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte. We will provide a press release with more information when appropriate. The investigation is ongoing.”

Quist, attending another campaign event in Missoula, declined to comment on early reports of the incident involving his Republican rival.

  • With files from Reuters

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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