Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of felony tax evasion. Good manners and a decent sense of shame would have him resigning the minute he left the courthouse. Mr. Grimm lacks both of those qualities, and he has said he will remain in the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) now has his first test in the new Congress, how to handle a convicted felon as a member of his caucus.
The congressman was set to go to trial on February 2, 2015, for hiding more than $1 million in receipts and wages at a Manhattan restaurant he owned, a place called Healthalicious. The judge let him admit to just one of the 20 counts he faced. The New York Daily News reported, “In a document submitted to the court, however, he admitted to all the illegal conduct alleged in his 20-count indictment, including hiring undocumented immigrants and lying under oath in a deposition in 2013, when he had been in Congress for two years. The judge scheduled sentencing for June 8.”
The former Marine and ex-FBI agent said, “While operating a restaurant, we underestimated the gross receipts and used some of the money to pay employees off the books and some other expenses.” He added, “Everything we’re talking about here happened before I was in Congress, and for the past four years I’ve been a very effective, strong member of Congress that has served the people of Staten Island very well, and I think the proof of that is the will of the people.” He has no intention of quitting, unless he is sentenced to prison. If he gets the three-year maximum, he would not be able to attend Congress, and would likely resign.
The Daily News also noted, “His lawyers, however, are expected to argue for a sentence of probation because of his FBI service and his work aiding constituents devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Federal sentencing guidelines — which the judge is free to ignore — call for a penalty of 24 to 30 months. Grimm will have to shell out between $80,000 and $200,000 in back taxes.” Probation would mean he can attend to Congressional business.
He can, but he shouldn’t, and this is a test for Speaker Boehner. Having a convicted felon, even one merely serving probation, in his caucus creates an ethical distraction. How can a party that likes law and order permit a felon to serve in Congress? There is nothing the party leadership can do to prevent him taking the oath of office in January. The House Ethics Committee has not acted in deference to the Justice Department, but with the court case over, the committee can now act. A resolution to expel Mr. Grimm is in order.
Congressman Grimm has already earned the enmity of this journal by threatening a reporter to was asking about his tax troubles. About a year ago, the congressman said to reporter Michael Scotto of New York 1, “Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again [ask awkward questions] I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony.” He continued, “No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.” For that alone, he should be forced from office. Threatening the media is something one would expect of a Putinista or a jihadi, not a United States Congressman.
From now through the sentencing date, Mr. Boehner will have this distraction, and if the sentence is lenient enough, he will have to deal with it long after that date. One wonders just how long he can put up with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the rest of the Democratic minority saying things like, “Clearly, Speaker Boehner must insist that Congressman Grimm resign immediately.” After a while, Mr. Boehner and the rest of the GOP leadership is going to start to look like accomplices in Mr. Grimm’s actions. That’s hardly good for the party nor for the country.