Rep. Michael Grimm (R) of New York got very, very mad at a reporter following President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. How mad? Mad enough to physically threaten NY1 cable news journalist Michael Scotto.
“I’ll break you in half. Like a boy,” Representative Grimm told Mr. Scotto after the latter asked him about a federal investigation into his campaign finances.
Grimm was initially unrepentant Wednesday morning. He said that he was doing Scotto a favor by agreeing to be interviewed about Mr. Obama’s speech and that to ask him about the federal investigation as part of that interview was a “cheap shot.”
“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,” Grimm said in a statement.
On Wednesday he apologized for his actions, telling reporters he had "lost his cool."
It’s true he won’t be the last lawmaker to tell a reporter to shove it. But Grimm may also be touchy about this subject because the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe is a serious one that could send people to jail and end others’ careers.
Grimm himself has been charged with no crime. Diana Durand, a woman described in press reports as Grimm’s former girlfriend, has been arraigned in federal court on charges that she used so-called straw donors to funnel illegal contributions to two members of Congress.
Neither lawmaker is named in the federal complaint. But press reports say they are Grimm and Rep. Aaron Schock (R) of Illinois.
Ms. Durand may not be the final target of this FBI probe, according to Roll Call political money specialist Kent Cooper. The charges against her “may be part of a strategic plan to bring pressure on someone under investigation,” he wrote earlier this month.
Grimm himself was an FBI agent at one point in his colorful past. He can put these dots together without the media’s help.
“Straw donors” are donors used to evade federal limits on campaign contributions to individual candidates. They work like this: Say you’re a friend of a member of Congress, and you want to give him or her more than the $4,800 you can legally give a campaign. You enlist another friend to give $4,800 – and then, in turn, you pay that friend back for his or her largess.
This is what the Feds have charged conservative author-filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza with doing. They charge he funneled $10,000 to the campaign of New York Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long in 2012.
Mr. D’Souza has pleaded not guilty to those charges. Prosecutors have told the federal judge handling the matter that Ms. Long, who attended Dartmouth with D’Souza, will testify against him.
As for Durand, she is a Houston resident who was a friend of Grimm’s, according to the complaint filed against her. News reports say the pair became acquainted in 2008, when Grimm had business dealings in Texas.
The FBI complaint says that Durand recruited two co-workers to serve as straw donors to “Congressman A” in 2010.
The complaint quotes an e-mail that Durand wrote thanking them for their help, which she called “priceless.”
“I still have to make the deposit but I can write you both a check, or I can get your account numbers and do a transfer, whatever works for you,” Durand wrote, in an apparent reference to reimbursing the co-workers for their expense.
The New York Times has identified “Congressman A” as Grimm and said the details of the contributions match the disclosed records of Grimm’s campaign contributions.
In a separate matter, the FBI is also probing whether Ofer Biton, an associate of a charismatic Orthodox rabbi, collected questionable money for Grimm’s campaign from the rabbi’s congregation.
Many of the rabbi’s followers are Israeli citizens. Foreign donations are barred from US campaigns.
It is not illegal for a candidate to accept straw donor money if the candidate does not know the scheme behind the contribution. As noted above, Grimm has not been charged with any campaign finance violation.
But among lawmakers, he is not seen as a phlegmatic colleague. Quite the contrary. A former member of the US Army and an 11-year FBI agent, Grimm is an avid weight lifter known to the New York tabloids as “Mikey Suits.” He’s threatened other NY1 journalists in the past, according to NY1 political director Bob Hardt.
“Rep. Michael Grimm’s bizarre and scary rant against our Michael Scotto last night is not an isolated incident; it’s 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,” Mr. Hardt writes.