APNewsBreak: Ethics complaint filed over Gianforte assault

File - In this Sept. 29, 2016, file photo, Chairperson of the Montana Democratic Party Nancy Keenan talks about then Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte during a news conference on the steps of the State Capitol in Helena, Mont. The head of the Montana Democratic Party on Thursday, May 24, 2018, is asking for a congressional ethics investigation into whether Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte lied to the police and the public about his attack of a reporter last year. The request by the party's executive director, Keenan, comes exactly one year after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs said Gianforte "body slammed" him for asking a question the day before he won a special election for Montana's only U.S. House seat. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File)
FILE - This Aug. 25, 2017 file booking photo provided by Gallatin County, Mont., shows U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., at the Gallatin County Detention Center in Bozeman, Mont. Executive Director Nancy Keenan is asking for a congressional investigation into whether Republican Gianforte lied to the police and the public about his attack of a reporter last year. (Gallatin County via AP, File)
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. The head of the Montana Democratic Party on Thursday, May 24, 2018, is asking for a congressional ethics investigation into whether Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte lied to the police and the public about his attack of a reporter last year. The request by the party's executive director, Nancy Keenan, comes exactly one year after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs said Gianforte "body slammed" him for asking a question the day before he won a special election for Montana's only U.S. House seat. (Rachel Leathe/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP, File)

HELENA, Mont. — The head of the Montana Democratic Party on Thursday asked for a congressional ethics investigation into whether Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte lied to the police and the public when he assaulted a reporter last year.

The request by the party's executive director, Nancy Keenan, comes exactly one year after Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs said Gianforte "body slammed" him for asking a question the day before Gianforte won a special election for Montana's only U.S. House seat. The former technology entrepreneur is running for re-election in November.

Gianforte eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and said Jacobs did nothing wrong. But Gianforte initially told police that Jacobs instigated the attack, and his campaign spokesman at the time, Shane Scanlon, released a statement saying the same thing.

Keenan's complaints filed with the House Committee on Ethics and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics said those were false statements made in violation of House ethics rules that require Gianforte to "conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House."

The ethics committee and the independent ethics office, which refers matters to the committee, will review the request but are not required to launch a probe simply because the request was made.

Keenan said Thursday that Gianforte has never owned up to lying to the police or the public, and he has never been held accountable for those statements.

"It's a matter of character for me," Keenan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If we can't trust him in telling the truth to the cops, then how do we trust him on health care policy, how do we trust him on public lands?"

It does not matter that the assault and the statements were made before Gianforte was elected or sworn in, Keenan said.

"A lot of things happened before people were members of Congress and they were still called to the carpet for it," Keenan said. "This case is no different."

In one case, a Senate ethics investigation was launched last year against U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., over sexual misconduct allegations from before he was a senator.

Gianforte has perpetuated the lie since he's been in office, including having his communications director, Travis Hall, give a statement to the AP last fall stating that "no one was misled" about the attack, Keenan said.

Hall declined to comment on Keenan's complaint. He cited as the reason a cease-and-desist letter sent to Gianforte by Jacobs' attorney last fall in response to Hall's "no one was misled" comment.

In the letter, attorney Geoffrey Genth told the congressman and his staff that Gianforte repeatedly misled law enforcement and the public and warned them to stop making "false and defamatory statements" about Jacobs.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Erin Collins said in a statement that Keenan's complaint is a desperate attempt by Democrats to divert attention from their "lackluster lineup" of candidates in this year's elections.

"While the Democratic Party attempts to waste taxpayers' money on this wild goose chase, Congressman Gianforte will continue to work tirelessly in Montanans' best interest," Collins said.

Five Democrats are competing for the party's nomination to challenge Gianforte in November's election. Keenan shrugged off any suggestion that the complaints are a campaign stunt.

"He continues to not tell the truth. It's fundamentally about honesty," she said.

Witnesses told investigators that Gianforte threw Jacobs to the ground and punched him after complaining earlier in the day about "duplicitous" campaign coverage by the Guardian and BuzzFeed News, according to police documents.

Gianforte told investigators that Jacobs grabbed his wrist and spun, pulling Gianforte on the ground on top of him. Scanlon's statement also said Jacobs grabbed Gianforte by the wrist.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert declined to file any additional state criminal charges related to Gianforte's initial statements.

Gianforte paid a fine, completed 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of counseling for anger of management.

He also apologized to Jacobs and donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists under a settlement with the reporter to avoid a civil lawsuit.

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