WASHINGTON — A Staten Island congressman who allegedly received illegal campaign financing from embattled Israeli celebrity rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto was caught on tape Tuesday night physically threatening a journalist who asked him about the scandal.
Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY), who is one of the key players in overlapping Israel Police and FBI investigations, allegedly threatened to break a reporter “in half” for asking him about the case during an interview.
NY1 reporter Michael Scotto was just concluding interviewing the congressman about his impressions of US President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech when he threw out a final question about the scandal embroiling Grimm, a former FBI agent who is now under investigation by the organization he used to work for.
In a recording of the interview, Grimm is seen storming off, only to charge back toward the reporter, getting in his face and launching a partially audible tirade that involved obscenities as well as physical threats. Grimm did not apparently know that the cameras were still rolling when he approached the reporter and threatened him.
“Let me be clear to you: You ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony,” Grimm told the reporter, according to NY1. After the reporter, off-screen, tried to defend his question, Grimm reportedly responded: “You’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half, like a boy.”
Minutes after the incident, Bob Hardt, NY1’s political director, fired out a tweet, alleging that Grimm “physically threatened” the television station’s Washington, DC, reporter, and promising to air the video of the incident on NY1’s website.
Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm physically threatened NY1 Michael Scotto. See the confrontation NOW on NY1
— Bob Hardt (@bobhardt) January 29, 2014
While Washington’s political junkies remained glued to their social media for post-State of the Union analyses, Grimm issued a statement in which he explained: “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.”
Grimm said that he “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.” He concluded with the assertion “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.”
Hardt responded with a statement of his own via Twitter, saying that “it is extremely disturbing when anyone threatens one of our reporters – let alone a US congressman. The NY1 family is certainly alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of Representative Grimm and demands a full apology from him. This behavior is unacceptable.”
Grimm has played a central role in the scandals surrounding Pinto. The Israeli kabbalist is said to have asked Grimm for assistance when he was allegedly blackmailed by people who threatened to reveal medical information about his family. Grimm was later suspected by the FBI of taking part in the blackmail itself.
Pinto has claimed – including to the FBI – that Israeli officials had pressured him not to testify against the Staten Island Republican.
Last Sunday, a video was revealed in which Grimm describes his first meeting with the rabbi, whose investigation has also embroiled top Israel Police officers in scandal and corruption allegations. “You could almost feel the positive energy when he holds your hand,” Grimm can be seen saying in the footage from 2010.
Grimm has denied all of the allegations against him, but the FBI continues to probe Grimm’s fund-raising. Members of Pinto’s New York synagogue allegedly gave the second-term congressman illegal campaign donations.
Grimm, who represents New York’s 11th Congressional District, was first elected to Congress in 2010 with strong backing from the Tea Party and a tepid reception from the New York City Republican elite. Before that, Grimm served as a Marine in Operation Desert Storm and then an FBI agent investigating high-profile mafia cases.
Grimm has been a steadfast supporter of Israel in his three years in Congress, and is a co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus.
But the outspoken delegate has also spent the past two years under investigation. Following a 2012 New York Times report, the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York confirmed that it was investigating Grimm’s first congressional campaign. Earlier this month, a first arrest was made in the case when Houston-based Grimm fundraiser Diana Durand was charged with facilitating straw-man donations to Grimm’s campaign and lying to federal agents.
Grimm has repeatedly denied that he was involved in any illicit campaign financing schemes.