Granted, the competition was fierce. But the 2014 statutette for Top Congressional Sleazebag clearly belongs to Michael Grimm.
As you may recall, Grimm began the year by threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony. Grimm at the time was the target of a federal investigation, and the reporter had the temerity to ask for comment at the tail end of an interview. Grimm’s reaction, a masterpiece of rhetorical thuggery: “If you ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off the f—–g balcony….I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”
But in April, the manly Republican congressman was broken in half by the feds, who hit him with a 20-count corruption indictment – tax fraud, lying under oath, the works. Grimm vowed to fight “tooth and nail,” but three days ago he rendered himself toothless. He copped to a deal on Tuesday, pled guilty to one felony count of tax fraud, in exchange for some modest jail time – as little as a year, as much as three. Meanwhile, he has vowed not to resign his House seat.
Hence the GOP’s dilemma. On the eve of the 2015 congressional season, the House party is stuck harboring a confessed felon. In politics, this is known as bad optics.
At a time when the Republicans are preparing to run both chambers, and promising to demonstrate that they can govern affirmatively, they risk being sidetracked by this Grimm tale. This week, he admitted in federal court – via a “statement of facts” – that as the owner of a restaurant, he concealed $900,000 in taxable gross receipts, cheated workers out of employment insurance claims, obstructed federal and state officials, and lied under oath about his dealings while serving in Congress.
So what’s John Boehner going to do about this guy?
It’s actually an interesting question, because there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution or the House rulebook that bars lawmakers from serving while jailed. Boehner’s leadership team could push to have Grimm expelled, but that process that would draw unwanted press attention – which perhaps explains why the House has expelled a grand total of five members in 225 years.
The last expellee was Ohio Democrat James Traficant, who was booted in 2002 after he was convicted of racketeering and bribery; before him, the last was Pennsylvania Democrat Ozzy Myers, who was booted in 1980 after being convicted of bribery in the Abscam affair (the scandal immortalized in the film American Hustle). Grimm could join this exclusive group, but first the House Ethics Committee would have to ponder his fate over many many months.
Now comes the political gamesmanship. Nancy Pelosi, on behalf of the ever-shrinking House Democrats, is demanding that Boehner compel Grimm to “resign immediately,” presumably to uphold the honor of the House, but we all know that’s the last thing Pelosi really wants. If Boehner pressures Grimm to go, the story dies; if Boehner takes the Ethics Committee route, the story stays alive.
Besides, Pelosi isn’t exactly the soul of virtue. After Louisiana Democrat Bill Jefferson was caught by the FBI with an ill-gotten $100,000 in his refrigerator, and subsequently indicted on 16 corruption counts, Pelosi didn’t demand that he resign. (Jefferson didn’t plead guilty like Grimm did, but still.) Nor has Pelosi ever demanded that Charlie Rangel resign. (Rangel hasn’t been indicted for his multiple tax evasions, but still.) A senior House Republican aide was right to tell CNN that Pelosi “has zero credibility on these issues.”
And Boehner will likely force Grimm to quit anyway – just as he prodded Trey Radel to go quietly a year ago, after the Florida congressman pled guilty to cocaine possession. Given the huge GOP majority in the House, Grimm is expendable. I figure he’ll will quietly tender his resignation on a late Friday afternoon, perhaps on the eve of Martin Luther King holiday weekend, to ensure minimum press coverage.
By the way, Grimm made his bones as a congressional candidate in 2010 by assailing Charlie Rangel for “cheating on his taxes.” He said that tax-cheating was “unforgivable,” that it was time to “reject Washington’s business-as-usual ignorance of ethical failings….Americans deserve better from their elected officials. Ethics are not a political issue; either you have them or you don’t.”
He should’ve pled guilty to hypocrisy.