The second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump reached all the way from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to the Montana Capitol on Thursday – some 2,223 miles away – as House impeachment managers used Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s assault and Trump’s praise of it to build a case that the 45th President had stoked and encouraged violence among his followers for years.
House Impeachment Manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, used a clip of Donald Trump visiting Missoula in 2018 in which he praised then Congressman Gianforte for his assault.
Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault for attacking reporter Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, and the freshman House representative also donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was also sentenced to and complete 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counseling in addition to the $385 court fines.
Raskin used the clip of Trump cheering on Gianforte to help build the case that what happened on Jan. 6, in the U.S. Capitol had actually the pinnacle of years of encouraging violence among his supporters.
In November, Gianforte was elected governor and left Congress. His seat was taken by Rep. Matt Rosendale who left Helena as the state’s auditor.
Calls placed to Gianforte’s office on Thursday by the Daily Montanan were not immediately returned.
Trump told a crowd on Oct. 18, 2018 that “any guy that can do a body slam – he’s my kind of guy. He’s a great guy, tough cookie.”
The crowd cheered and laughed at the remarks.
Trump also left little room for doubt about what he meant during the rally. He told the crowd that he was in Rome when he first heard about the assault on Jacobs.
“And I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible. He’s going to lose the election.’ And then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think that might help him.’ And it did.”
Trump also referenced a verbal sparring match between himself and current President Joe Biden in which Gianforte was referenced again during the same rally. Biden himself had called out Trump, saying he’d “beat the hell out” of Trump if they were in high school.
Meanwhile, Trump during the Missoula rally replied, “He’d be down, faster than Greg would take him down.”
Even after the rally, those comments reverberated throughout the country as First Amendment groups and anti-violence groups were quick to condemn the remarks. Trump never backed away from them and Gianforte remained silent.
Montana reaction was mixed. While politicians moved on and the comments were debated in the letters-to-editors section, editorial boards decried what the state witnessed.
“The president was wrong to congratulate Gianforte for committing assault. He is wrong to encourage violence against any journalist or anyone else,” said The Billings Gazette’s editorial board. The Gazette is the largest paper in the state.
“Trump’s comments imply that Montanans elected Gianforte because he attacked Jacobs. Don’t pin that insult on us, Mr. President. The majority of ballots had been cast early – before the assault in Bozeman occurred. Montanans often disagree, but we are committed to working together to work out differences. Most Montanans respect the rule of law and we respect each other,” it continued.
Raskin said that rallies like the Missoula one were part of a long-term pattern of behavior, as reported in The Washington Post.
“These tactics were road-tested,” said Raskin. “Jan. 6th was a culmination of the president’s actions, not an aberration from them. The insurrection was the most violent and dangerous episode so far in Donald Trump’s continuing pattern and practice of inciting violence.”
This story originally appeared online at the Daily Montanan and is republished here by permission.