Being a reporter in the U.S. is a pretty safe job compared to trying to do it in places like Syria, Iraq or Russia. No one threatens to throw you off a balcony because you asked an awkward question. Except that is exactly what happened to Michael Scotto of NY1.
He asked Staten Island Congressman Mike Grimm about an investigation into “questionable fundraising” that went on in the congressman’s race in 2010. Such a clear attempt at intimidation merits one response: I’m going to tell you what Grimm doesn’t want you to know. Scotto is part of the brotherhood of journalists — when you pick a fight with one of us, you have picked one with all of us.
Grimm was one of the Republicans who was spinning the State of the Union speech and its many responses. When Scotto tried to bring up the fundraising scandal, the Daily News says “Grimm told him, ‘I’m not speaking about anything that’s off topic. This is only about the president,'” and he walked away. But as Scotto was talking to viewers back in New York, the congressman stormed back into the shot and told him off.
“Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony,” Grimm said.
“Why, why, I just wanted to ask you …?” Scotto responded.
“If you ever do that to me again …,” the Republican shot back.
“It’s a valid question,” Scotto said in his defense, but Grimm replied: “No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”
Corporal Grimm is a newcomer to Congress. Before being elected in 2010, he had been an FBI agent and U.S. Marine, a Persian Gulf War veteran. He’s also a lawyer and an investment banker. He founded Healthalicious, a Manhattan restaurant, which is being sued for paying employees off the books and below minimum wage. In addition, Corporal Grimm owns 26% of a biofuel firm in Austin Refuels Transport, which he started and where he was CEO. The company had 11 safety violations in its first U.S. Department of Transportation inspections, but that isn’t what has the little corporal upset.
When he was running for Congress in 2010, he got some financial help from the followers of Orthodox rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York in August 2012 acknowledged that the office is investigating Corporal Grimm’s fundraising from that time. The New York Times interviewed about 15 of the rabbi’s followers about $500,000 or so that found its way to Grimm’s campaign war chest by way of the rabbi’s aide Ofer Biton. Biton has since copped a plea on a visa fraud charge, but he had faced an investigation into accusations that he embezzled millions from the rabbi’s flock. He’s not doing any jail time, but could have done years.
The NYT story says, “Three of the rabbi’s followers said in separate interviews that Mr. Grimm or Mr. Biton told them that the campaign would find a way to accept donations that were over the legal limit, were given in cash or were given by foreigners without green cards. Congressional campaigns are not allowed to accept cash donations of more than $100. Foreigners without green cards are barred by law from giving to political campaigns. They are also not allowed to solicit contributions for campaigns.”
Corporal Grimm issued a statement when the article came out that read in part, “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.”
When he was an FBI agent, he was involved in an incident at a Queens nightclub in which he was threatening to murder someone while holding a handgun. “Grimm was holding a weapon. Grimm was ‘carrying on like a madman,'” NYPD officer Williams said. “He’s screaming, ‘I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him.’ So I said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He put the gun back in his waist and said, ‘I’m a fucking F.B.I. agent, ain’t nobody gonna threaten me.’” Such a temper.
Let’s forget about the restaurant and biofuel violations. Let’s even ignore the gun incident, and for the sake of argument, let’s admit that he could be innocent, that he never took the money. Alternatively, he might have taken the campaign funds thinking he was OK and he unintentionally violated the law, not appreciating the finer points of New York finance law. Corporal Grimm isn’t big on details; this is the same congressman who submitted federal election forms stating that he was in New York Congressional District 13, when redistricting had moved him to the 11th.
But that explanation is hard to take when one considers the arrest of a former girlfriend, Diana Durand. New York’s Daily News noted, “She was accused of using so-called straw donors so she could exceed the $4,800 maximum allowable contribution to his campaign. According to the criminal complaint, once she reached the donation limit, she gave money to at least two other people so they could contribute to Grimm.” Any man who has been in a relationship with a woman of any duration knows that she probably didn’t keep this a secret from the corporal.
The corporal can make all the threats he wants. I’ve been threatened by much nastier people and I find threats boring — the sign of intellectual defeat in an argument. The truth remains: he looks crooked and he acts crooked. The people around him are in legal trouble for being crooked. That doesn’t prove that he is crooked. It doesn’t prove that he isn’t either.
Congressman, answer the question and quit trying to intimidate reporters. Or we can keep digging into your past.