The Time Michael Grimm Yelled at Me

Even before that New Yorker story came out, I had a good sense of Grimm’s temper.

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Marin Cogan
Jan. 29, 2014, 6:48 a.m.

Late Tues­day, Rep. Mi­chael Grimm capped off a night usu­ally re­served for ce­re­mo­ni­al pomp and de­cor­um by threat­en­ing to throw a re­port­er off a bal­cony. “Let me be clear to you, if you ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off this f——— bal­cony,” Grimm told NY1 re­port­er Mi­chael Scotto, who dared to ask the con­gress­man about an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to his cam­paign fin­ances. “I’ll break you in half,” he ad­ded, “like a boy.”

Those who are fa­mil­i­ar with the Staten Is­land Re­pub­lic­an’s ca­reer are al­lowed to be shocked, but they shouldn’t be sur­prised. The world first learned that Grimm—who was elec­ted in 2010 on the strength of his ex­per­i­ence as an un­der­cov­er FBI agent on Wall Street—might not be the most level-headed guy when he ap­peared in a 2011 New York­er story by Evan Rat­liff. The story was about a man named Josef von Habs­burg, a con­fid­en­tial in­form­ant and scam artist who worked with Grimm when he was with the FBI. The story con­tained a dis­turb­ing scene in which Grimm is al­leged to have wiel­ded a gun at a Queens nightclub in 1999. Ac­cord­ing to the story, Grimm showed up at the club with a wo­man and had a con­front­a­tion with her es­tranged hus­band. Rat­liff picks up the story from here:

Around 2:30 A.M., there was a com­mo­tion on the dance floor. Ac­cord­ing to [off-duty NYPD of­ficer Gor­don] Wil­li­ams, some­body was shout­ing, “He’s got a gun!” Fol­low­ing a crowd in­to the club’s gar­age, Wil­li­ams dis­covered that Grimm and the hus­band had re­turned, and Grimm was hold­ing a weapon. Grimm was “car­ry­ing on like a mad­man,” 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.’ “

Grimm denied mak­ing those threats. But the story goes on:

Grimm left the club, but at 4 A.M., just be­fore the club closed, he re­turned again, ac­cord­ing to Wil­li­ams, this time with an­oth­er F.B.I. agent and a group of N.Y.P.D. of­ficers. Grimm had told the po­lice that he had been as­saul­ted by the es­tranged hus­band and his friends. Wil­li­ams said that Grimm took com­mand of the scene, and re­fused to let the re­main­ing pat­rons and em­ploy­ees leave. “Every­body get up against the fuck­ing wall,” Wil­li­ams re­called him say­ing. “The F.B.I. is in con­trol.” Then Grimm, who ap­par­ently wanted to find the man with whom he’d had the ori­gin­al al­ter­ca­tion, said something that Wil­li­ams said he’ll nev­er for­get: “All the white people get out of here.”

You should really read Rat­liff’s en­tire story, as well as his fol­low-up posts ex­plain­ing what Grimm denies and how Rat­liff sourced the story, to get a full un­der­stand­ing of the con­text of the claims. Rat­liff also goes on to de­tail some of the more re­cent cam­paign fin­ance is­sues Grimm is fa­cing, in­clud­ing al­leg­a­tions that he and a New York rabbi, now un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion for al­legedly em­bezz­ling mil­lions from his con­greg­a­tion, col­lec­ted dona­tions that far ex­ceeded cam­paign fin­ance lim­its on in­di­vidu­al giv­ing. (That rabbi later pleaded guilty to visa fraud.) Earli­er this month, the FBI ar­res­ted a former fun­draiser for Grimm, al­leging she funneled $10,000 worth of il­leg­al dona­tions to his cam­paign.

Even be­fore that New York­er story came out, I had a good sense of Grimm’s tem­per. In March 2011, he was part of the fresh­man class I covered as a re­port­er for Politico, and I wrote a story about him cri­ti­ciz­ing fel­low con­ser­vat­ives for risk­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down. “I don’t rep­res­ent the tea party or any­body like that, I rep­res­ent Staten Is­land and Brook­lyn. If we’re go­ing to make those cuts they’re go­ing to be smart,” he told me at the time. The tea party did not ap­pre­ci­ate that state­ment. So Grimm’s press sec­ret­ary called me back to in­sist he’d said “I don’t rep­res­ent only the tea party” and that I needed to is­sue a cor­rec­tion. I checked my notes, con­firmed my quote, and told them I was sorry but I couldn’t is­sue a cor­rec­tion. At the time it seemed like a mat­ter of prin­ciple: I wasn’t go­ing to is­sue a cor­rec­tion just be­cause someone was ex­per­i­en­cing a bit of con­tro­versy over his words. And that’s when Grimm got on the phone and star­ted shout­ing at me.

It’s been a few years since this happened, and I don’t re­mem­ber all of the de­tails. I do re­mem­ber him re­peatedly yelling that he “did not serve 10 years in the FBI!” to have to put up with something like this. To be clear, at no time did I feel threatened, nor did I feel par­tic­u­larly scared or up­set—al­though that seemed pretty clearly to me to be what he was try­ing to ac­com­plish. I was a little shocked, but I gave as good as I got, and he took it to my ed­it­or, and we even­tu­ally settled on this blog post where he got to cla­ri­fy his claims. Com­pared to last night’s out­burst, it was pretty tame. Still, I’ve nev­er dealt with any­one so angry be­fore, or since.

I’ve seen some people on Twit­ter this morn­ing sug­gest that the out­rage over Grimm’s out­burst is over­blown. Polit­ics ain’t bean­bag, and if you want to be in­volved in it you should learn to toughen up. Fair enough. But put­ting aside the an­noy­ing double stand­ard with which we treat emo­tion­al out­bursts on the job (cry­ing at work is seen as un­ac­cept­ably shame­ful, even though that dis­play of emo­tion is in­wardly dir­ec­ted and harms no one, where­as an­ger, which ac­tu­ally can harm people, is of­ten ra­tion­al­ized as a dis­play of pas­sion or in­tens­ity) Scotto was ask­ing Grimm, a pub­lic of­fi­cial, about a ser­i­ous and im­port­ant is­sue. Do we really want a polit­ic­al cul­ture in which journ­al­ists can’t ask pub­lic of­fi­cials le­git­im­ate ques­tions without get­ting brow­beaten?


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