Greg Gianforte

Greg Gianforte speaks during his campaign rally at the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark on Friday, May 12.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette Staff

Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte’s chief of staff is moving on after just five months on the job, but don’t read too much into the departure, the congressman’s spokesman said Monday.

Gianforte, a Republican political newcomer who took office in a bizarre May special election, plans to seek re-election in November 2018. News broke late Friday that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was appointing Gianforte’s chief of staff, Charles Robison, to be Rural Development director of Montana.

Robison’s departure wasn’t lost on Democrats, lined up six deep for a chance to challenge Gianforte in the 2018 general election.

Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist by 24,000 votes to fill the House seat vacated by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. However, on the eve of the election, Gianforte assaulted a reporter for The Guardian. Democrats who have filed to run in the 2018 primary have cited the incident in their campaigning.

Gianforte has no Republican primary challenger.

"If Greg Gianforte's closest adviser who knows him best feels like he could do more good working somewhere else after only five months, it doesn't say much for the job Gianforte is doing to fight for Montana,” said Roy Loewenstein, a Montana Democratic Party spokesman who has been doing most of the messaging against Gianforte since the Bozeman Republican took office.

An attempt to contact Robison on Monday at Gianforte’s Helena office was redirected to Travis Hall, the congressman’s spokesman. Hall said Gianforte supported Robison’s move to Rural Development director.

“I would not agree with that,” Hall said of the speculation. “Greg recommended Charles for the position. There’s no ship jumping.”

Gianforte hasn’t appointed a new chief of staff. Robison’s appointment happened rather quickly, Hall said.

Senators belonging to the same party of the president usually recommend appointments for federal directorships on the state level, including U.S. Marshal and USDA positions in Rural Development and Farm Service Agency.

Montana’s Republican U.S. Senator, Steve Daines, indicated last Friday that he endorsed Robison’s appointment. Robison has a long history with Daines and the senator’s staff.

Robison was Daines’ state director during Daines' one term in the U.S. House and also after 2014, when Daines was elected to the Senate.

Robison was deputy campaign director for the 2004 gubernatorial campaign of former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown. The campaign manager for Brown was Daines’ current chief of staff, Jason Thielman.

Robison, who received a law degree from the University of Montana in 2010, was working for the Helena law firm Gough Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman before hiring on with Daines in 2013.

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