Yesterday, Democratic congressional candidate and attorney John Heenan offered to help Gallatin County prosecute Greg Gianforte for making a false claim to law enforcement following the release of documents that demonstrate unequivocally that Gianforte misled officers following his assault of reporter Ben Jacobs in April.
The letter was both an excellent example of political theater, reminding voters about Gianforte’s penchant for dishonesty and violence, and a striking reminder that the justice system treats certain defendants much differently than others. For reasons that are not difficult to discern, Mr. Gianforte has received the kind of deferential treatment the wealthy defendants seem entitled to while those with less means make due with a justice system that is punishing and applied with incredible force on those least able to defend themselves.
Fresh after telling the newspaper last week that Mr. Gianforte had said “misleading things” to law enforcement, Bozeman county attorney Marty Lambert continued his pattern of treatment of Mr. Gianforte Tuesday, telling the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that Gianforte, despite not telling the truth, did not give false statements to investigators:
On Tuesday, Lambert said there was no case because he believed Gianforte was telling his side of the story at the time. He said the sergeant who interviewed Gianforte sorted the facts out and found the citation of misdemeanor assault to be appropriate, and Lambert agreed with the deputy’s assessment.
That’s just not how the truth works, though. In the post-Trump world, where the President of the United States lies as routinely as others draw breath, the Gianforte lie is nothing special, but it’s still a lie. In a country where the President lies about being named Time Person of the Year and seeks to discredit his own admission that he bragged about sexually assaulting women, it’s even more important that we emphasize the fact that objective truth still exists.
And there are no “sides” to this story: Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter in front of witnesses and didn’t come clean until after the election results were in. Since then, he and his staff have returned to the lie, deliberately creating confusion about what happened. Gianforte went so far as to claim that Mr. Jacobs provoked and initiated the attack, lies that he not only told the public but law enforcement officials who were investigating the assault.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that you or I would be treated very differently by county prosecutors if we lied to them.
And that’s the big story here. Mr. Gianforte seems to think that his wealth and influence somehow shield him from the same laws and standards that apply to the rest of us. Think about how he was treated following his assault:
- he was allowed to flee the scene, driven by the Chief of Staff for Senator Steve Daines before law enforcement could determine the truth at the scene.
- he was allowed to refuse police interview until after his campaign released a demonstrably false statement and he could get his story together.
- he was given preferential treatment at his initial appearance in court.
- despite showing a pronounced lack of remorse and needing to be prodded repeatedly by the judge to admit that Ben Jacobs was harmed, Gianforte had his sentence changed from four days of jail time.
And yet, with all that special treatment, Mr. Gianforte can’t bring himself to just tell the damn truth about what happened. He couldn’t the night of the assault, he can’t to Montana voters today, and he can’t even seem to tell it to himself.
The truth matters and I’m glad that Mr. Heenan plans to make Gianforte’s refusal to accept responsibility for his actions a centerpiece of his campaign against the Congressman. While Gianforte has (and will continue to) cast votes against the interests of his constituents–and we need to learn about those–it’s important to consider the character of the man, too.
Montana can do better than a bullying, sexist, violent, and entitled man who doesn’t even have the decency or political sense to accept responsibility for his actions and I look forward to repeated reminders about just how unworthy Mr. Gianforte is of the seat he currently holds