Rep. Michael Grimm, the embattled New York Republican whose fundraising practices and business dealings have attracted intense scrutiny from the media, says he is the victim of a “coordinated effort” to smear him.
A Marine veteran of the first Persian Gulf War who later infiltrated the mob and shady Wall Street firms as an undercover FBI agent, Grimm was elected to Congress in an upset victory in 2010. Handsome and charismatic, he appeared ready to quickly ascend through the Republican ranks on Capitol Hill, until a series of press reports uncovered a pattern of questionable activities both before and after he left the bureau.
Grimm says that the media coverage of him has been biased. “I think it’s been a hatchet job from the beginning,” he told The Daily Caller.
Questions about Grimm’s integrity surfaced even before he was elected. During a tough primary race against an opponent backed by the state party establishment, Grimm used a campaign flier with a picture of himself in uniform wearing two combat ribbons that he had not earned. Grimm blamed an administrative screw up for the error and said a senior officer, whom he later remembered as “Major Cauldwell,” had authorized him to wear the ribbons.
The bad press just got worse after Grimm assumed office in 2011. That April, The New Yorker reported that while still serving in the FBI, Grimm had brandished a gun during a dispute with the husband of a woman he’d been seeing. Grimm denied any wrongdoing and claimed the The New Yorker was on “a witch hunt.”
In January, The New York Times reported that Grimm had improperly received hundreds of thousands dollars in campaign contributions from the Brooklyn-based followers of Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, an Israeli rabbi. Several anonymous sources told the Times that Grimm had accepted contributions in excess of the legal limit and attempted to strong-arm the rabbi’s followers into giving vast sums of cash for his campaign. Grimm strongly denied the charges.
After the Times ran its story, disgraced former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner said Pinto had told him that Grimm was attempting to extort his followers. Weiner said he took the information to the FBI before the 2010 elections.
Grimm told TheDC that the allegations involving Pinto are “ridiculous” and that Weiner is not to be trusted.
“The allegations were purportedly given to the Bureau by a sitting congressman at the time, Anthony Weiner,” Grimm said. “If a sitting congressmen makes allegations as serious as these allegations are, does anyone believe that the FBI is just going sit on it for 17 months? I don’t believe that, I don’t think any rational person would believe that. I don’t think any person that’s ever been in law enforcement would believe that. I don’t think any prosecutor would ever believe that.”
According to Grimm, his relationship with Pinto was innocent, and no wrongdoing ever occurred. They met twice, he said: once to receive a blessing, and another time to meet “members of the community.”
“[People from Brooklyn] brought me there because they had known he was influential, number one, and two that he had helped other candidates, including Anthony Weiner,” Grimm said. “I’m grateful for all the introductions that he made. I’m grateful for his blessing, but that’s as far as the relationship went. He introduced me to a lot of good people, many of whom supported me.”
Critics say Grimm’s relationship with Pinto and his followers appears to be much more complicated than the congressman lets on.
“Mr. Grimm’s main contact with [Pinto’s] group was Ofer Biton, a top aide of the rabbi, who is now under investigation by federal prosecutors over accusations that he embezzled millions of dollars from the rabbi’s congregation,” the Times wrote in an editorial calling for a federal investigation into Grimm. “Several of the rabbi’s followers interviewed by The Times said Mr. Biton aggressively sought donations for Mr. Grimm in hopes that he would be able to get an immigration green card once Mr. Grimm was in office.”
The Times story relied on anonymous sources, a journalistic practice Grimm criticized to TheDC. “What’s stopping an anonymous source from saying I’m an axe murderer?” he said. “You can say that and apparently that’s what’s picked up. Three, four, five anonymous sources all said Michael Grimm’s an axe murderer. Okay, it doesn’t mean I’m an axe murderer though. It means anonymous sources say I was, but it doesn’t mean I’m an axe murderer.”
“This is no different and as crazy as the axe murderer scenario sounds, it’s on par with the allegations that have been levied,” he continued. “It’s just as ridiculous.”
Grimm also said he “absolutely” hopes there is a federal investigation into the allegations, which he says will prove them to be “not just false, but absurd.”
“I know there’s nothing there,” he said. “I’m very confident in the way I’ve always conducted myself, so the way I look at it is I don’t think I can be exonerated now without some review.”
A follow-up Times story explored Grimm’s relationship with Carlos Luquis, a former FBI agent who was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison for business fraud. Luquis, who had served alongside Grimm at the bureau, was already under indictment only weeks away from trial when the two got involved in a Texas real estate deal.
Luquis was convicted in 2006 and served 18 months in prison. By that time, Grimm and another partner had already agreed to pay his building company nearly $1 million in borrowed money.
After Luquis was paroled in 2008, Grimm gave him a job at another Texas-based business he had started. And during Grimm’s run for Congress, the Times reported, Luquis could often be seen at his side.
Grimm said that when he and Luquis made the initial deal in 2006, he expected his friend would be acquitted. He also said he still believes Luquis was innocent.
“The system’s not perfect,” he said. “It’s the greatest system in the world, but it’s not perfect. And sometimes innocent people go to jail. But whether he was or he wasn’t isn’t really relevant because he was a friend. When he came out, he needed help and I helped. In a situation like that I’m not going to turn my back on a friend.”
“If I can help give him a job and get him back on his feet after serving his time, I’m not gonna apologize for that,” he continued. “It’s a lot different, I think anyway, when someone’s convicted of heinous crimes — anything against children or any type of violent, rape or violent crimes — I would have a big problem with that. But overall I think people deserve a second chance.”
According to Grimm, the Times story boils down to “guilt by association,” and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the organization behind the “coordinated effort” to smear him. He also said the effort has “boomeranged” back on the Democrats, and that his constituents in Staten Island and Brooklyn support him now more than ever.
“When you’re working as hard as I am, again it comes down to one thing: You can’t beat him on his record, can’t outwork him. So what can you do? How do you beat a guy that has a good record and he works real hard? You gotta go somewhere underhanded and you gotta try to use what’s at your disposal, which is often the media.”
“It is what it is,” he said.