A local Republican party official in Montana offered a vivid defense of Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter in May.
"If that kid had done to me what he did to Greg, I would have shot him," said Karen Marshall, an official with the Gallatin County GOP Women, according to the Helena Independent Record.
Gianforte drew national criticism when he assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs one day before winning a special election to fill the seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The altercation was occasioned by the reporter asking about pending Republican healthcare proposals. Gianforte won the race the next day, apologized, and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.
"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," Guardian U.S. editor Lee Glendinning told the Washington Examiner after the lawmaker was fined and ordered to fulfill to community service and anger management classes.
Marshall disagrees. "That kid came on private property, came into a private building and went into a very private room that I would not even have gone into," she said on local radio. "It was a setup. A complete setup. He just pushed a little too hard."
The altercation took place at a campaign event; it was witnessed by local reporters who were also interviewing the GOP politician.
Gianforte's team denounced Marshall's comments. "Greg disagrees with those remarks, repudiates them and remains focused on being a strong voice for Montana in Washington," Gianforte spokesman Travis Hall told the Independent Record on Friday.
Gianforte faces a re-election fight in 2018, given that he replaced Zinke in the midst of his term. John Heenan, one of the Democratic candidates vying for the chance to unseat him in 2018, seized on Marshall's remarks.
"The fact members of [Gianforte's] party are sort of doubling down and wishing worse harm on Ben Jacobs really bothers me," Heenan maintained. "There's just no place in politics for this type of violent rhetoric. It's not a partisan issue."