BOZEMAN -- A surreal scene unfolded in Gallatin County Criminal Court Monday morning as Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte (R-MT) pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter the night before he was elected.
Judge Rick West initially sentenced Gianforte to four days in jail, but then reversed himself and let Gianforte both avoid jail and be allowed to leave without being booked.
"Being a congressman-elect, having to spend any time in jail isn't something you should do," Judge West told a courtroom packed with reporters.
In the end, Gianforte received some community service, $385 in fines and anger management classes for his assault of The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.
Following the hearing, Gianforte refused to respond to questions about the false statement his campaign issued following the assault.
Despite claims from both prosecutor and judge that Gianforte had taken responsibility, his campaign's lies remain uncorrected.
"Essentially, Gianforte’s campaign took the stance that the allegations of the 'liberal journalist' couldn’t be believed. It’s all 'fake news,' don’t you know," the local newspaper, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle explained. "This might have remained the storyline except for an audiotape of the incident and the eyewitness accounts from a Fox News team that clearly contradict the version offered by Gianforte’s campaign, accounts that investigators and prosecutors believed when they charged Gianforte with misdemeanor assault later that same night."
With Judge West's decision to revoke Gianforte's prison sentence, the Bozeman Republican effectively received a "get out of jail free" card. Yet the political ramifications of Gianforte's violent assault are still unfolding.
"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," Nancy Keenan of the Montana Democratic Party said in a statement. "Greg Gianforte should not be sworn in as a member of Congress, and if he is, he must resign."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Gianforte "should decline to take the oath of office" after his "heinous violent assault."
The night of the attack, Raw Story was first to report that Ben Jacobs was in a sling after being discharged from the hospital.
Here is @Bencjacobs' full statement that he read at Gianforte's court hearing. #mtpol #mtal https://t.co/ccQ2rAxeMF— Whitney Bermes (@Whitney Bermes) 1497291297.0