May 25, 2017 Last Updated 9:18 am

Montana House GOP candidate charged with assaulting Guardian reporter day before election

Morning Brief: UK mad about US leaks, Russian fake document, President leaks submarine locations, and none of that leads the news following another wacky Wednesday

Just another day in America, where the news comes at you so fast that saying your head is spinning does not do justice to the situation. Even before the bewitching hour of 5pm ET, which The New York Times and The Washington Post might be expected to drop new bombshells there was big news.

First, from the UK came word about just how angry British officials were becoming over leaks coming from the US regarding the Manchester bombing. Among the things that upset the Brits was that the NYT published crime scene photos while US broadcasters had named the suspected bomber — well before British authorities intended to release it. The leaks led to an unusual statement being released by a National Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson to the the National Police Chiefs’ Council:

“We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world. These relationships enable us to collaborate and share privileged and sensitive information that allows us to defeat terrorism and protect the public at home and abroad.

“When that trust is breached it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter terrorism investigation.”

But leaks involving the British were not the only ones involving leaks. US intelligence officials were scratching their heads over a call transcript between President Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte revealing that the president had boasted about the fact that there were two U.S. nuclear submarines near North Korea.

“We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News. The call also revealed Trump complimenting Duterte’s effort to fight drugs in the Philippines, a campaign that has led to the deaths of thousands without any judicial review.

But that was before 5pm, the bewitching hour. When that bell struck the NYT released its story:

The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo:

Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia…

…Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

At around the same time, The Washington Post released its 5pm bombshell.

The Post’s story is a bit complicated as it concerns a bit of a head fake by the Russians. In essence, a document was obtained by the FBI which seemed to show that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had privately assured the Clinton campaign that the Justice Department would not be looking to closely into the email server investigation. The Russian document was not authentic, but now there is speculation (and we emphasize speculation) that this document influenced then-FBI Director James Comey in his July decision to end the FBI investigation, but to make public statements condemning Clinton’s actions.

The Washington Post, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett:

How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe

A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake, according to people familiar with its contents…

…The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter. If true, the revelation of such an understanding would have undermined the integrity of the FBI’s investigation.

Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

And yet, neither of these two stories is what grabbed the attention of readers and viewers just an hour later. Incredibly, two stories, each of which would be five column headliners under normal circumstances, led the news.

Incredibly, it was a story out of Montana, of all places, that led the evening cable TV news channels. A story beyond bizarre.

A special election is being held today to fill the lone US House seat for the state, one made vacant the appointment of Republican Representative Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Montana being a deep red state would be expected to elect the Republican nominee, millionaire Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies, easily.

But things are proving more complicated because even though Donald Trump won the state easily in November, Montana has a tendency to see its voters less averse to voting for Democrats. The state has a Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, for instance — as well as one Democratic senator.

Then there is the unpopularity of the president, as well as the unpopularity of the Republican’s new health care proposals.

As the race between Gianforte and his Democratic challenger heated up, the national press descended on the state. Gianforte’s opponent would look to be a longshot at best. Rob Quist is a musician and former spokesman and advocate for the Montana Food Bank. That’s his credentials. But polling seemed to indicate that the election might actually be closer than would be expected under normal circumstances.

Then The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs dropped a story that claimed that the Republican candidate has financial ties to Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the US.

The Guardian, Ben Jacobs:

GOP candidate Greg Gianforte has financial ties to US-sanctioned Russian companies

Greg Gianforte, who is the GOP standard bearer in the upcoming special election in Montana, owns just under $250,000 in shares in two index funds that are invested in the Russian economy to match its overall performance.

According to a financial disclosure filed with the clerk of the House of Representatives, the Montana tech mogul owns almost $150,000 worth of shares in VanEck Vectors Russia ETF and $92,400 in the IShares MSCF Russia ETF fund. Both are indexed to the Russian equities market and have significant holdings in companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft that came under US sanctions in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

The holdings, while substantial, make up only a small portion of Gianforte’s wealth. The congressional candidate, who made a fortune starting a software company which was later sold to Oracle, has assets estimated to be worth between $65m and $315m, according to his financial disclosure.

That brings us to just after 5pm ET, after the NYT and Post have dropped their stories.

Gianforte was holding a BBQ event for his volunteers when he was about to be interviewed by Fox News. As the interview was about to take place, other reporters entered the room in order to record the audio. That was when Ben Jacobs of The Guardian asked the Republican candidate a question about the CBO scoring of the AHCA released that afternoon. That CBO report, on any other day, would have been the headline, such is the way news breaks these days.

Gianforte had been playing coy about his support for the highly unpopular health plan, telling the public that he would withhold judgement, while telling others that he supports it. His flipflop on the issue quickly became a campaign ad for the Quist campaign.

Jacobs approached the candidate, raised his cellphone in order record the audio, and asked Gianforte about his opinion on the CBO score. That is when the candidate “body slammed” Jacobs, breaking his glasses and beginning the craziest few hours of a totally crazy news day.

What may end up being the craziest part of this whole story is that the definitive account of the incident, the one that will make the Republican candidate look the worst, comes from Fox News itself, as they were there, and they chose to report what they saw, regardless of the politics of the situation.

Fox News, Alicia Acuna:

Fox News team witnesses GOP House candidate ‘body slam’ reporter

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment.

What Jacobs did then is amazing. He calmly told Gianforte “you just broke my glasses” as the candidate screamed at him. He then asked for the names of those who witnessed the incident (one interesting tidbit is that Jacobs has a law degree from Duke University).

Then Jacobs did two things: he called the police and then sent out a tweet about what just had happened.

The Gianforte campaign immediately responded by releasing a statement blaming the whole incident on Jacobs. But Jacobs, if you recall, was recording the whole thing as he was in the middle of asking a question. The audio was quickly posted to the Guardian’s website and then included in the cable news broadcasts (the first, I believe, being All In with Chris Hayes).

Speculation then began about whether Gianforte would be charged with assault. There were witnesses, after all, and audio evidence. But the local sheriff, reporters soon found out, had contributed to the Gianforte campaign. What would happen next.

This morning we found out.

The Guardian, Julie Carrie Wong and Sam Levin:

Republican candidate charged with assault after ‘body-slamming’ Guardian reporter

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

…“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he wailed on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

The fallout has been quick for the Republican candidate, as the state’s three largest newspapers have taken back their endorsements of Gianforte.

Billings Gazette, Editorial:

Gazette opinion: We’re pulling our endorsement of Greg Gianforte

We’re at a loss for words.

And as people who wrangle words on a minute-by-minute basis, that doesn’t happen often.

What happens even less — hopefully never again — is a Montana candidate assaulting a reporter. While there are still questions left unanswered about GOP House hopeful Greg Gianforte’s altercation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, eyewitness accounts, law enforcement investigations and records are all shocking, disturbing and without precedent.

That’s why The Billings Gazette editorial board is also doing something without precedent: We’re rescinding our editorial endorsement of Greg Gianforte.

Missoulian, Editorial:

Missoulian rescinds Gianforte endorsement

Greg Gianforte should not represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night when, according to witnesses, he put his hands around the throat of a reporter asking him about his health care stance, threw him to the ground and punched him — he should lose the confidence of all Montanans.

Independent Record, Editorial:

Independent Record withdraws endorsement of Gianforte

Democracy cannot exist without a free press, and both concepts are under attack by Republican U.S. House Candidate Greg Gianforte…

…We are also sick and tired – of Gianforte’s incessant attacks on the free press. In the past, he has encouraged his supporters to boycott certain newspapers, singled out a reporter in a room to point out that he was outnumbered, and even made a joke out of the notion of choking a news writer, and these are not things we can continue to brush off.

Though we aren’t clear on whether the reporter at Wednesday night’s event was invited or not, his questions were fair and come with the territory of running for Congress. And the actions of the reporter surely did not justify the reaction.

OK, that’s the end of the story, right? As crazy as all this is, we certainly can expect that a candidate for the House of Representatives, one that is supporting an incredibly unpopular health care bill that will hurt thousands of state residents, one with ties to Russian companies, and one that is being charged with assaulting a reporter, could never be elected in Montana. Right?


Well, that is where things might get even crazier.

You see this incident probably will not change a thing. Between half and two-thirds of all ballots have already been cast in the Montana race due to early voting. And even though polls showed the race tightening, they didn’t show Quist actually close to winning, but simply outperforming expectations.

So, for all the action of yesterday, when the evening comes expect the cable news channels to report that the new Representative for Montana to Congress will be a Trump supporting, Russia entangled, millionaire facing assault charges for attacking a reporter.

No wonder the president is smiling and the Pope is looking downbeat.

The Huffington Post, Michael Calderone:

GOP Candidate’s Attack On Reporter Shows Peril Of Asking Questions In Trump’s America

In the past three weeks, political reporters have described being arrested, pinned against a wall, slapped, and now body slammed ― all this in a nation where freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution.

Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nathaniel Herz told police earlier this month that Republican state Sen. David Wilson slapped him during an encounter over a recent story.

West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman was arrested on May 10 while trying to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who later praised police for their handling of the situation.

And last week, CQ Roll Call reporter John M. Donnelly said he was pinned against a wall by security guards after trying to ask a Federal Communications Commission member a question in Washington.

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