Lawyers: Gianforte wants to enter plea in assault case

Rep. Greg Gianforte said he plans to donate money to a journalism advocacy organization as part of a settlement

FILE - In this May 25, 2017, file photo, Greg Gianforte celebrates his win over Rob Quist for Montana's open congressional seat in Bozeman, Mont. Gianforte issued an apology letter Wednesday, June 7 and said he plans to donate money to a journalism advocacy organization as part of a settlement agreement with a reporter he is accused of assaulting. In exchange, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs agreed not to sue Gianforte over the attack, and he will not object to Gianforte entering a “no contest” plea to the misdemeanor assault charge the Republican faces from the May 24 encounter. (Rachel Leathe/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP, File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Newly elected U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana wants to enter a plea and be sentenced on a charge of assaulting a reporter who asked him a question about health care on the eve of last month’s special election, his lawyers said in a motion filed Thursday.

The request made in Gallatin County Justice Court calls for the Republican to appear Monday on the misdemeanor charge.

It came a day after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs signed a release agreeing not to sue Gianforte and to not object to the technology entrepreneur entering a no contest plea in the criminal case.

In exchange, Gianforte wrote a letter of apology to Jacobs and pledged to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Gianforte said in a statement that he and Jacobs are looking to put the episode behind them.

His letter to Jacobs said Gianforte “had no right to assault” the reporter and said his “physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable and unlawful.”

Jacobs said in a statement that he accepts the apology and hopes the incident reinforces the importance of respecting the freedom of the press.

A no contest plea would allow Gianforte to concede to the offense without entering a guilty plea. The maximum penalty for misdemeanor assault is six months behind bars and a $500 fine.

Gianforte attorney William Mercer did not immediately return a call for comment. Gianforte spokesman Shane Scanlon declined to confirm that Gianforte planned to plead no contest.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said he could not discuss how Gianforte would plead, but the request that sentencing be held at the same time as the arraignment is an indication.

“I think this matter will be concluded on Monday,” Lambert said.

A justice of the peace was expected to grant the court appearance request later Thursday, he said.

Jacobs was trying to ask Gianforte on May 24 about the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Republican health care bill as Gianforte prepared for a television interview. Jacobs said Gianforte “body slammed” him and broke his glasses. Gianforte then told Jacobs to “get the hell out of here,” according to an audio recording by Jacobs.

Gianforte was charged with assault that night. The next day, he defeated Democrat Rob Quist to win the special congressional election to replace Ryan Zinke as Montana’s only congressman after Zinke was appointed to head the Interior Department.

Gianforte is expected to be sworn in later this month.