In making the case for convicting former President Donald Trump of an impeachment charge, Democrats on Wednesday played an audio clip of Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte physically assaulting a reporter in 2017 during his campaign for Congress, along with video of Trump praising the attack during a 2018 campaign stop in Missoula.
The ongoing impeachment trial focuses on whether Trump incited a violent mob of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The insurrection shut down Congress for hours, and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol police officer who was beaten by the rioters.
During the morning’s proceedings in the U.S. Senate, House Impeachment Manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, characterized the Jan. 6 attack on Congress as the culmination of “Trump’s continuing pattern and practice of inciting violence.”
“It wasn’t just Trump’s encouragement of violence that conditioned his supporters to participate in this insurrection on Jan. 6,” Raskin said. “It was also his explicit sanctioning of the violence after it took place.”
He then played an audio clip of Gianforte’s attack on a reporter from the Guardian newspaper, which took place on the eve of the 2017 special election for Montana’s U.S. House seat. In the audio, from May 24, 2017, Gianforte can be heard body-slamming the reporter, who was asking him about his stance on health care at a campaign event in Bozeman.
The montage then continues with a video of Trump holding a rally in Missoula in October 2018, praising the assault and at one point pantomiming a body-slam from the stage.
“Greg is smart and by the way, never wrestle him,” Trump said at the time, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy.”
The rally was to support the U.S. Senate bid by Matt Rosendale, who lost that election to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Gianforte, who won reelection that year, appeared briefly on the stage that night but did not address Trump's comments. Rosendale went on to win the U.S. House seat vacated by Gianforte last November.
A spokeswoman for Gianforte on Thursday released a statement in response to the Democrats’ use of the clips: “Gov. Gianforte is focused on leading Montana's comeback.”
After the 2017 incident, Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, was fined $385 and sentenced to anger management and community service. He also donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists and sent a letter of apology to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.