Incoming Republican Montana congressman Greg Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge Monday, but escapes jail time if he doesn't violate the terms of his sentence.
The Bozeman Chronicle reported Judge Rick West did not sentence Gianforte to serve jail time, instead deferring his six-month sentence. If Gianforte abides by the terms of his sentence, the assault can be dismissed after six months. West ordered Gianforte to pay $385 in fines and fees as well as serve 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management by Nov. 28.
The sentence goes along with the recommendation from Gallatin County District Attorney Marty Lambert, who asked that Gianforte receive a 6-month deferred sentence along with a $500 fine and $85 in fees.
The incident occurred on the eve of last month's special election to fill Montana's only congressional seat vacated by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, approached Gianforte to ask him a question about his support of the American Health Care Act. Gianforte was preparing for an interview with Fox News and declined to speak to Jacobs.
When pressed to answer a question, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs' wrist and body-slammed him to the floor and breaking his glasses.
An audio recording and three eyewitnesses from Fox News confirmed Jacobs' account of the incident. Gianforte was elected to Congress the next day, defeating Democratic challenger Rob Quist by six points.
West remanded Gianforte to the jail to be booked, fingerprinted and sign up for a work program. Gianforte's attorney said that he would pay the fine today.
Gianforte said he was taking responsibility for his mistake.
"I look forward to putting this behind me. I have apologized to Mr. Ben Jacobs, he has accepted my apology, I am grateful for that, and now I look forward to going to work in Washington," he told reporters following the hearing.
"I take full responsibility for my actions, I acted in a way that doesn't reflect my behavior in the past and that's why I was pleased to be here and get this done so we can move forward."
Last week, Gianforte issued a written apology to Jacobs for the incident, accepting responsibility for his actions and pledging $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Democrats seized upon the hearing as an example of why Gianforte should not actually take his seat in Congress.
"The people of Montana need a representative in Congress. They do not need a criminal," said Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.
"A man who assaults another person, then lies about it, and acts with only his best interests in mind does not share our Montana values. Mr. Gianforte's role in Washington will be minimized by his party's leadership and he will not be able to give the adequate representation in Congress that Montana deserves. Greg Gianforte should not be sworn in as a member of Congress, and if he is, he must resign."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Commitee spokesperson Drew Godinich said Gianforte should remove himself from power.
"Serving our fellow citizens as an elected leader should be one of the highest honors in our democracy. Now that Greg Gianforte has pleaded guilty to this heinous violent assault, he has shown himself to be absolutely unfit and unworthy of the honor of representing Montana in Congress," Doinich said.
"He should decline to take the oath of office."
In a statement, Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning said the incident should serve as a reminder to all politicians in power of the sanctity of a free press.
"This decision should remind all those in positions of authority that a free press, like freedom of speech, is one of the building blocks of American democracy, established under the First Amendment," he said. "The Guardian thanks our colleagues across the whole media spectrum, whether liberal or conservative, for their solidarity and support for Ben Jacobs over the last few weeks. We will continue to pose tough questions on behalf of our readers."