HELENA, Mont. (AP) ? Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte avoided jail time after pleading guilty Monday to an election-eve assault on a reporter that turned the race for Montana's lone U.S. House seat into a full-fledged political spectacle.
The Republican tech entrepreneur instead will serve 40 hours of community service and attend 20 hours of anger management classes for throwing Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs to the ground at Gianforte's campaign headquarters in Bozeman on May 24.
For all the national attention the audiotaped assault brought to the race in its waning hours, the judge, prosecutors and the new congressman's attorneys maintained Monday he was treated like any other first-time misdemeanor offender.
There was one notable exception, however: Gallatin County Justice of the Peace Rick West said he would allow prosecutors and the defense several weeks to argue over his order that the rookie politician be fingerprinted, photographed and booked like other defendants.
West ordered Gianforte to pay $385 in fines and court costs in addition to his 180-day suspended jail sentence, meaning he will be under court supervision until late November and will be able to petition to have the conviction removed from his record.
Gianforte is expected to travel to Washington within the next few weeks to be sworn in by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
A coalition of press groups had called on a congressional committee to censure Gianforte for the attack, and Democrats have demanded he step aside. Some of Gianforte's fellow Republicans, including Ryan, have criticized him over the assault but said he simply needed to apologize.
"This was not a proud moment, but I'm ready to move on," Gianforte said outside the courtroom.
From the start, there was little question that Gianforte would avoid jail time in light of the extent of Jacobs' injuries and Gianforte's clean record.
"Given a complete lack of a criminal history, given all that he's done for the community and who he is, I think the assault was aberrant behavior that will not be repeated on his part," county Attorney Marty Lambert said outside court.
Gianforte was questioned by sheriff's deputies at his headquarters shortly after the attack, then didn't appear in public again until his victory speech the next night, in which he apologized to voters and to Jacobs.
Audio posted by Jacobs shortly after the attack recorded sounds of a scuffle, followed by Gianforte yelling for the reporter to "get the hell out of here." Jacobs tweeted that Gianforte had "body slammed" him and broke his glasses while he tried to question him.
During Monday's hearing, the judge tried to extract details of the confrontation from Gianforte.
"I knowingly made physical contact with Mr. Ben Jacobs that was insulting or provoking in nature and although it was not my intent to hurt him, I understand Ben was injured in this contact," Gianforte said.
"I grabbed for his wrist. A scuffle ensued, and he was injured," he said. "In the scuffle we fell on the floor, and I understand his elbow was injured."
A Fox News reporter who witnessed the attack said Gianforte, completely unprovoked, pushed Jacobs to the ground and punched him.
Despite the confrontation, Gianforte was elected by 6 percentage points over Democrat Rob Quist to serve the remainder of the term vacated by Ryan Zinke, who resigned to become Interior Department secretary.
The vast majority of ballots were cast by mail well beforehand.
Gianforte's attorneys, including former U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer, noted that he had already paid more than $4,600 in restitution to Jacobs as part of a quick civil settlement. Guardian spokeswoman Meghan Pianta told The Associated Press the money went toward medical expenses.
Gianforte also agreed to give $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists and wrote Jacobs a letter of apology in which he acknowledged assaulting the reporter for asking a "legitimate question about health care policy."
Despite those repeated apologies, Gianforte has yet to fully address why his campaign's initial account of the confrontation cast blame on Jacobs.
Lest anyone needed more proof that state Representative Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) has completely lost his marbles, the Tea Party Republican provided ample proof yesterday on Facebook. Perhaps most astonishingly, Moon wasn't cornered by pesky reporters (a la Greg Gianforte) or tricked into an error in judgment by a good-looking girl on Twitter (sigh, Weiner). He did all by himself.
In a brief video posted to his official Facebook page, Moon muses about the special session recently called by Governor Eric Greitens, which will attempt to repeal St. Louis' so-called "sanctuary city" law sheltering women from discrimination for their reproductive choices. All normal enough ? except for that fact that, during his one-minute monologue, Moon decapitates a chicken with his bare hands and then pulls out its heart.
"Like any good career politician, when I get the call, I go back to work," Moon says, snapping the animal's neck. "God gave man dominion over animals. He allows us to raise them properly, care for them, and then process them for food so we can sustain life. And that?s what I?m doing here with this chicken."
As he talks, Moon is chopping up the bird. He digs in, pulling out its organs as he continues: "So we?ve been called back to this special session for the primary purpose of supporting life, protecting the unborn specifically."
Then he goes for the heart.
"I think we need to get to the heart of the matter here," Moon says, holding the heart out to the viewer. (Ewww!!!) "So today, I?m filing a bill that will lead to the stopping of abortion in the state of Missouri, and I hope you?ll support it. So stay tuned for more details."
That's it. No explanation of how dismembering chickens relates to abortion, no explanation of how he's going to get around the U.S. Supreme Court and somehow stop something that the courts have found you literally cannot just stop. (Says Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, "The only thing more absurd than that video is the GOP rep?s call to ban abortion in the state of Missouri.") Just feathers, blood and a weirdo who kills animals for fun. Is anyone starting to get the sense this guy is desperate for attention?
You can watch the whole bizarre thing below. Or maybe don't. We can pretty much guarantee it'll be on all the stupid cable news talk shows soon enough, Exhibit A in the ongoing story of just how backwards Missouri is. As if the mustache wasn't bad enough.