Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate who is running for Congress in Montana, has been charged with misdemeanour assault late on Wednesday (24 May) night after he was accused of "body-slamming" a British journalist earlier in the day.
At a campaign event, Gianforte allegedly assaulted Ben Jacobs, political journalist for The Guardian, after the latter pressed on a question about the Republicans' health care bill. An altercation reportedly followed and Jacobs was injured and his glasses broken .
The office of the Gallatin County sheriff, Brian Gootkin, said in a statement that Jacobs' injuries did not meet the legal definition of felony assault, but there was enough evidence to charge Gianforte with misdemeanour assault.
Gianforte, a millionaire endorsed by US President Donald Trump, would face a maximum $500 (£385) fine or six months in jail if convicted, the Associated Press reported.
Witnesses told the police that the candidate grabbed Jacobs by his neck and slammed him to the ground, breaking his glasses. An audio recording of the altercation was released by the reporter.
However, Gianforte's campaign gave a different version of the event and said it was Jacobs who initiated the incident. Jacobs "aggressively shoved a recorder" in the Republican's face, it said.
"After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined," Shane Scanlon, Gianforte's spokesman said in a statement. "Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground."
But other journalists who were present at the scene said Jacob did not show any physical aggression towards Gianforte at any point, the BBC reported.
Members of a Fox News television crew was witness to the encounter. One of its journalists, Alicia Acuna, wrote a firsthand account on the network's website, saying she and her colleagues "watched in disbelief as Gianforte 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!'"
In an audio released by Jacobs, Gianforte could be heard shouting: "I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came here, you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here."
A shocked Jacobs was then heard saying: "Jesus Christ ... You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses."
"He took me to the ground," Jacobs told the Guardian over phone on his way to the hospital. "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 incident took place the night before polls open across the state of Montana to fill the empty seat to replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke, who joined Trump's cabinet to serve as his Secretary of the Interior.
Gianforte is up against the Democrats' Rob Quist in the special House election and the two candidates were head-to-head in the race.
A month before the alleged incident, Jacobs had published a story which revealed the Republican's financial ties to a number of Russian companies.