Montana Assault Witness Changes Story, Says No Neck Grab

Reporter says firsthand account misstated key aspect of Gianforte incident

by Edmund Kozak | Updated 25 May 2017 at 9:14 PM

A reporter who was a firsthand witness to an incident late Wednesday involving Montana GOP candidate Greg Gianforte and a reporter for the Guardian now admits she may have misstated some details of her initial story.

Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs claimed Gianforte, locked in a hotly contested special election for Congress, body-slammed him and broke his glasses at a campaign event Wednesday. Local authorities have brought misdemeanor assault charges against Gianforte.

“You know, and I’m the one who said that … I saw both his hands go up … I guess it could’ve been on his clothes, I don’t know.”

There is, so far, no direct video of the incident; only audio has been produced publicly. Among the small handful of eyewitnesses was Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna.

Acuna wrote a report published on Fox News that detailed what happened as Jacobs aggressively questioned Gianforte.

“At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” she wrote. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”

Acuna repeated her initial version of events during an appearance on Fox News Wednesday evening.

“Gianforte grabbed [Jacobs] by the neck, slid him to the side, and body-slammed him, and then got on top of him and started punching,” she said.

Details from Acuna's report quickly went viral online, but she said Thursday during an interview on "The Laura Ingraham Show" that she misstated the neck grab.

"One of you guys said last night that he put his hands around his neck," Ingraham said. "Which, as somebody who's done a lot of taekwondo and self-defense, to me that seemed, that might not be exactly right."

"You know, and I'm the one who said that," Acuna replied. "I saw both his hands go up, not around his neck in a strangling type of way, but more just on each side of his neck, just grabbed him and I guess it could've been on his clothes, I don't know."

Ingraham asked Acuna if that meant she was changing her story.

"Again, just to clarify, he didn't grab him by the neck with both hands in the way that was initially described, that's not quite accurate," Ingraham asked at the end of the interview.

"​No, so it wasn't like he grabbed him around the neck, he had one hand on each side of his neck," Acuna confirmed.

Gianforte's campaign released a statement shortly after the incident Wednesday that offered a different take on the scuffle than that put forward by Acuna.

"Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, the Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions," the statement read. "Jacobs was asked to leave."

"Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face," the Gianforte statement continues. "Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground."

Montana has early voting in federal elections, and reported estimates suggest that as much as 70 percent of total expected votes had already been cast before the incident. Day-off votes are being cast Thursday.

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