House Speaker Paul Ryan called Thursday for Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte to apologize after he was charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly assaulting a reporter.
"There's never a call for physical altercations," Ryan said during a televised news conference. "There is no time where a physical altercation should occur or just between human beings. That is wrong and should not have happened. Should the gentleman apologize? Yeah, I think he should apologize."
Montana authorities charged Gianforte with a misdemeanor Wednesday — one day before Thursday's special election to fill its sole at-large congressional seat, after he allegedly body-slammed Guardian US reporter Ben Jacobs. Jacobs had asked Gianforte about the new Congressional Budget Office report on the GOP health care bill.
The Guardian posted audio of the interaction that depicted Gianforte telling Jacobs, "Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. You with the Guardian?" Jacobs responds that he has been body slammed and his glasses have been broken, to which Gianforte says, "get the hell out of here."
Gianforte — whose campaign released a statement claiming that Jacobs grabbed the candidate's wrist and spun away, pushing both of them to the ground — will appear in court by June 7. If convicted, he faces a maximum of a $500 fine and six months imprisonment.
Jacobs has said the statement from Gianforte's campaign is false. Multiple witnesses, including a Fox News reporter, have bolstered Jacobs' account.
"I know he has his own version, and I'm sure he's gonna have more to say, but there's no call for this under any circumstance," Ryan said.
But Ryan said he would still seat Gianforte if he were to win Thursday's election. "I'm gonna let the people of Montana decide who they want as their representative," he said. "That's not our choice. That's the people of Montana who choose that."
"I do not think this is acceptable behavior," he added, "but the choice will be made by the people of Montana."
Tyler Law, a spokesman for the House Democrats' campaign arm, said Ryan's comments did not go far enough. “Speaker Ryan’s lack of moral clarity is on full display as he refuses to drop his strong support of Greg Gianforte after his violent assault charge,” Law said in a statement.