Assault Charge Gianforte

Rep. Greg Gianforte, center, sits alongside William Mercer, left, and Todd Whipple during his court hearing in Bozeman June 12. Gianforte has been photographed and fingerprinted after pleading guilty to assaulting a reporter on the eve of the special election that put him in office.

AP photo

An attorney for the reporter who was assaulted by Rep. Greg Gianforte on the eve of his election last May has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the congressman and his spokesman asking them to stop falsely saying the reporter initiated the physical attack.

Gianforte admitted in court in June to assaulting Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, when Jacobs tried to ask Gianforte his views about a health care bill before Congress. When pleading guilty to the misdemeanor assault in Gallatin County District Court, Gianforte said Jacobs "did not initiate any physical contact with me." He also wrote a letter to Jacobs saying the reporter did not start the physical altercation.

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Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs

Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs reads from a statement in the Gallatin County courthouse on June 12, 2017.

A press release sent out by Gianforte's campaign in the hours after the assault falsely blamed the attack on Jacobs, saying the reporter grabbed the candidate's wrists.

Gianforte apologized to Jacobs and as a part of his sentence performed community service, completed anger management and paid a fine and restitution. He also donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists to avoid a civil case.

Earlier this month, Gallatin County District Court released hundreds of pages of records of the investigation into the assault. The records show Gianforte misled investigators, saying it was an attempt by the "liberal media" that was "trying to make a story" of what happened.

In the letter posted online by the Independent Journalism Review, Geoffrey Genth, Jacobs' attorney, asked Gianforte and his spokesman Travis Hall to "immediately cease and desist from making any further false and defamatory statements about Mr. Jacobs."

Genth wrote that the letter was prompted by recent news quoting a statement from Hall that "no one was misled, and anyone who says otherwise was mistaken." That statement was in response to coverage of the documents released by the Bozeman court.

"It is unacceptable and actionable for Rep. Gianforte, Mr. Hall, or any other persons working for or affiliated with Rep. Gianforte or his campaign to make false and defamatory statements about the May 24 assault," Genth wrote.

The letter was sent to Bill Mercer of Holland and Hart, the Billings law firm that represented Gianforte in the assault case. Mercer and Hall were contacted for comment and to confirm they have received the letter, but did not otherwise respond.

Gianforte has announced he will run to keep his seat in Congress in 2018. Six Democrats have announced they will run in the primary for that race.

In 2016, when Gianforte was running for governor, he sent cease-and-desist letters to television stations around the state saying they broadcast false advertising that claimed he is a "millionaire from New Jersey." 

The letter said Gianforte had lived in Montana two decades. It also disputed the ad's claim that "Gianforte sued to eliminate a popular access spot."

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State Bureau reporter for The Independent Record.

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