CREDIT: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
After President Obama’s State of the Union Speech, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) rushed to tell an NY1 television reporter that he found the speech divisive. When the reporter asked Grimm about a brewing controversy over his campaign finance practices, the second-term Congressman and former FBI agent threatened to throw the reporter off a balcony if he ever did so again.
NY1 reporter Michael Scotto was referring to an ongoing federal investigation into whether Grimm illegally solicited and accepted contributions from foreign donors, offered to help a foreign national get a green card in exchange for campaign cash, and filed false campaign finance disclosures. A new report last week also suggested that he may have engaged in a controversial — and potentially illegal — “donor swapping” scheme, circumventing campaign contribution limits by having donors make contributions to a different campaign and then having that candidate transfer the money.
At the end of the interview Tuesday, Scotto broached the topic. Grimm quickly cut him off, saying he would not speak “off-topic” and walking off camera. When Scotto noted to the television audience that Grimm “does not want to talk about some of the allegations concerning his campaign finances,” Grimm confronted the reporter with the cameras still rolling:
GRIMM: “Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony.”
SCOTTO: Why? I just wanted to ask you…
GRIMM: If you ever do that to me again…
SCOTTO: Why? Why? It’s a valid question.
GRIMM: No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.
Grimm issued a statement Tuesday night calling Scotto’s question a “disrespectful and cheap shot” and observing “I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last.” He did not apologize for his threats.
NY1′s political director charged Wednesday that Grimm’s “bizarre and scary rant” was “not an isolated incident,” but rather “part of a pattern in which the congressman has tried to avoid questions from NY1 about an ongoing probe into his campaign finances — and then become enraged when we’ve dared to ask him about a legitimate story.”
Grimm’s widely-reported meltdown will likely bring more attention to the controversy he sought to avoid discussing. The New York Times reported, in January 2012, that Grimm, a former FBI agent, had raised more than $500,000 from followers of an Orthodox rabbi. Members of the rabbi’s congregation claimed that an aide to that rabbi or Grimm had pressed them to illegally contribute funds to Grimm’s 2010 campaign. Grimm denied the allegations at the time, claiming, “Any suggestion that I was involved in any activities that may run afoul of the campaign finance laws is categorically false and belied by my life of public service protecting and enforcing the laws of this country.” The FBI and a U.S. Attorney launched an investigation into the matter that year — still ongoing — and the House Ethics Committee agreed to defer its own probe until the Department of Justice is done.
Despite the allegations, Grimm won re-election in 2012, by a 52 to 47 margin.
Earlier this month, one of Grimm’s donors was arrested by the FBI on allegations that she created a straw donor scheme intended to funnel $10,000 to Grimm’s campaign. She is also charged with lying about the scheme to investors.
The latest revelations, reported by the New York Daily News last Monday, were that in 2010, more than 20 transactions suggest supporters of Grimm and candidates in California, South Dakota, Illinois and Virginia swapped more than $75,000 in donations. Melanie Sloan, head of the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and a former federal prosecutor, said the donations “certainly are suspicious.” For the past three years, her group has listed Grimm as one of the “Most Corrupt” members of Congress.
Grimm apologized Wednesday for his conduct, writing, “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have allowed my emotions to get the better of me and lose my cool. I have apologized to Michael Scotto, which he graciously accepted, and will be scheduling a lunch soon.”