The real scandal with tough-guy Rep. Michael Grimm
The New York Republican's threat to tear a reporter in half and throw him off the balcony is just the tip of the iceberg
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a two-term Staten Island congressman with stints in the Marines and FBI, grabbed our attention after President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. More specifically, he grabbed NY1 reporter Michael Scotto after Scotto asked him about a bubbling campaign finance scandal, memorably uttering these words, caught on the rolling camera's video (watch above):
Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this f—ing balcony.... You're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy. [NY1]
Alright, that's probably a sentiment a lot of politicians have wanted to convey to a reporter. But now, thanks to Grimm's threats, everybody knows that he is embroiled in, and touchy about, something to do with allegedly illegal campaign donations. Before we get to that story, Grimm decided to address his partial-on-camera outburst with this statement:
I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview first in lieu of several other requests. The reporter knew that I was in a hurry and was only there to comment on the State of the Union, but insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot at the end of the interview because I did not have time to speak off-topic. I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. 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.
MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin sarcastically cuts to the PR lesson:
But here's the story Scotto was asking Grimm about in the Capitol rotunda: Last week, the FBI arrested Grimm's fundraiser (and ex-girlfriend) Diana Durand on charges of illegally contributing more than $10,000 to Grimm's 2010 campaign through straw donors. Here's how the New York Daily News describes the alleged "donor swapping":
The swapping works like this: A donor who gives the maximum to Candidate A then donates to Candidate B — and in return, a donor or friend of Candidate B gives an identical amount to Candidate A. [NY Daily News]
In one case described by the Daily News, Candidate A was Bert Mizusawa, a GOP House candidate in Virginia, and the maxed-out donor was Washington lawyer Bazil Facchina; Durand was the second alleged donor, and Grimm Candidate B. The newspaper said its review of 2010 federal campaign finance record found at least another 20 such transactions involving Grimm and fellow candidates in California, South Dakota, Illinois, and Virginia.
The Daily News investigation implicates Grimm personally in one questionable transaction, but he's not listed in the Justice Department indictment. But Grimm has been under investigation for two years, and Durand is merely the newest wrinkle. In August, Ofer Biton — a former top aide to Israeli Orthodox Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto — pleaded guilty to visa fraud; in early 2012, The New York Times reported that Biton and Grimm allegedly sought illegal campaign donations from Pinto followers, including large cash contributions and donations from undocumented immigrants.
Even with those allegations, Grimm's constituents re-elected him in 2012, 48 percent to 43 percent. He first won election in the GOP wave of 2010, unseating freshman Democrat Michael McMahon by about three points. But let's face it, campaign finance violations fall into the category of "boring but important," with an emphasis on boring. Threatening to murder a reporter with your bare hands? Not boring.
And that's not even the most colorful story in Grimm's recent past. (No, I'm not talking about this one.) In 2006, after leaving the FBI, he opened up a health food restaurant with an alleged mobster with ties to the Gambino crime family. And in 2011, Evan Ratliff wrote about FBI undercover operations in The New Yorker, including some eyebrow-raising allegations about Grimm from a New York City Police officer who was moonlighting as a bouncer. At the time, July 1999, Grimm was an FBI agent, apparently dating a married woman.
According to the NYPD officer, Gordon Williams, Grimm and the woman entered a nightclub in Queens, Caribbean Tropics, around midnight and ran into the woman's estranged husband. Williams broke up the ensuing altercation, but says Grimm and the husband returned at 2:30 a.m. for a standoff in the club's garage, with Grimm waving a gun around, screaming he was going to kill the guy, and saying: "I'm a fucking FBI agent, ain't nobody going to threaten me." Ratliff then recounts this epilogue:
Grimm left the club, but at 4 a.m., just before the club closed, he returned again, according to Williams, this time with another FBI agent and a group of NYPD officers. Grimm had told the police that he had been assaulted by the estranged husband and his friends. Williams said that Grimm took command of the scene, and refused to let the remaining patrons and employees leave. "Everybody get up against the fucking wall," Williams recalled him saying. "The FBI is in control." Then Grimm, who apparently wanted to find the man with whom he'd had the original altercation, said something that Williams said he'll never forget: "All the white people get out of here." [New Yorker]
Completely accurate or not (Grimm says not), that's a pretty juicy story. And not many people would know about it if Grimm had kept his temper in check Tuesday night.