US & Canada

'Body slam' congressman sentenced to 20 hours of anger counselling

US House of Representatives-elect Greg Gianforte. Image copyright Reuters

A Montana congressman who "body slammed" a reporter has been fined and sentenced to community service and anger management counselling.

Greg Gianforte, 56, pleaded guilty to assaulting a journalist from the UK's Guardian newspaper on the eve of his election last month.

A judge initially sentenced the Republican to four days in jail before reducing the penalty.

Gianforte is expected to be sworn in to office later this month.

Gallatin County Justice Court Judge Rick West gave Gianforte a 180-day deferred jail sentence.

He was ordered to pay $385 (£304), complete 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counselling.

Ben Jacobs, the reporter who was attacked after asking the candidate whether he supported the Republican healthcare plan, agreed not to sue Gianforte if he wrote a letter of apology and donated $50,000 (£39,500) to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Following Gianforte's sentence, Mr Jacobs released a statement saying "while I have no doubt that actions like these were an aberration for Congressman-elect Gianforte personally, I worry that, in the context of our political debate, they have become increasingly common".

"This needs to stop," he added.

He said he hoped the "court's decision can send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse in our country, the important role of the free press and the need to help heal our political system".

Alicia Acuna, a reporter from Fox News who witnessed the attack, said Gianforte "grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground", before he began "punching" the reporter.

The politician initially claimed Mr Jacobs had grabbed his wrist, pulling them both to the ground. His spokesperson called it "aggressive behaviour from a liberal journalist".

But in his formal apology, Gianforte acknowledged his actions and took full responsibility.

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Media caption'Get the hell out of here!' - listen to the alleged attack

Gianforte won the special congressional election in Montana, just hours after he was charged with assault.

The multimillionaire technology executive and Christian conservative beat Democrat Rob Quist, a banjo-playing folk singer, to fill an empty seat in the House of Representatives.

In a victory speech Gianforte said he had "learned a lesson" and was "sorry".

President Donald Trump praised the victory during an official trip to Italy, calling it a "great win in Montana".

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