By John Gizzi
The profane outburst at a TV reporter Tuesday by Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York has focused new attention on the recent indictment of one of his top fundraisers for campaign finance violations which, along with an ongoing federal investigation, has raised questions about the congressman’s re-election this year.
Were Grimm’s sole problem this lone outburst, his political problems would be minimal.
But what prompted the question from NY1 cable news reporter Michael Scotto following the State of the Union address concerned the investigation resulting in the Jan. 13 indictment of his longtime fundraiser Diana Durand of Houston on charges she tried to evade federal limits on campaign donations.
And looming large in the background is an FBI probe into whether Grimm accepted illegal donations — including large amounts of cash from foreigners in his first race for Congress in 2010.
The case involves Israeli Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, who has congregations in Israel and Manhattan, and who has agreed to testify for the FBI.
Durand, frequently referred to in press reports as a former girlfriend of Grimm’s, is charged with reimbursing two co-workers for donations to someone the FBI complaint refers to as “Congressman A” — and who The New York Times identifies as Grimm.
According to the complaint, Durand, who had already given the legal limit of $4,800 to Grimm, wrote both of the co-workers by email, saying, “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.”
The Durand case is currently being handled by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Asked by Newsmax if Grimm was a target of any investigation, spokesman Robert Nardoza of the U.S. Attorney’s office said, “I can’t say, and I won’t confirm or deny that.”
The FBI probe involving Grimm and Pinto is more complex and potentially more devastating to the only Republican member of Congress from New York City.
Ofer Biton, a former top aide to Pinto, is alleged to have raised more than $500,000 for Grimm in 2010 from wealthy members of the rabbi’s congregation, including amounts of cash over the legal limit as well as donations from foreigners, which is illegal in federal races in the United States.
At the same time, Biton is also accused of embezzling millions of dollars from Pinto’s congregation, and last August pleaded guilty to visa fraud.
Rabbi Pinto is also alleged to have attempted to bribe Ephraim Bracha, a senior police official in Israel, who promptly reported the matter to superiors.
The Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva reported this month that “Rabbi Pinto has reportedly leveled his own charges against Grimm, claiming that Grimm’s associates attempted to blackmail him if he did not encourage his followers to donate to Grimm’s campaign.” The nature of the blackmail has not been disclosed publicly.
Grimm, a former FBI agent, has denied any knowledge of the financial schemes. But the recent indictment of Durand suggests that the feds may be tightening a noose around Grimm.
No leaders of either the Republican Party or the New York Conservative Party, whose ballot line the congressman carried in his two winning races, would speak on the record to Newsmax about Grimm facing further trouble or the possibility of a primary challenge.
Privately, however, there is growing concern among both GOP and Conservative chieftains in the Empire State that if there is more controversy ahead for Grimm, opposition might emerge out of fear that the 43-year-old congressman could be defeated.
Two years ago, Grimm defeated Democrat Mark Murphy — an aide to then-public advocate and now mayor, Bill de Blasio — with about 53 percent of the vote.
This year, the Democratic nominee is expected to be former City Councilman Domenic Recchia of Brooklyn.
The New York press has speculated that the former popular conservative Republican congressman from Staten Island, Vito Fossella, may challenge Grimm. Fossella has denied such plans, but an online poll conducted by the Staten Island Advance had more than 80 percent of respondents encouraging him to make a bid.
King County (Brooklyn) Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar told Newsmax that a committee met with Grimm and “we discussed his case. He may not like talking about it with reporters but he had no problems taking questions from us about it. He said he anticipates a conclusion of his discussions with federal government officials and nothing new will come up.”
As to whether Grimm is having political problems in New York’s 11th District, which includes Staten Island and a sliver of Brooklyn, Kassar said, “Any time some clouds appear, there is always a chance of a storm. But so far, this seems a case of guilt by association. We have confronted him directly about this and he has adequately responded to our questions.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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