House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) just rid himself of one major political headache heading into the new GOP-controlled Congress, but an even bigger one may be coming on.
Boehner apparently persuaded disgraced Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) to announce he would resign his seat next week after pleading guilty to a felony federal tax charge. But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a close Boehner ally, is fast becoming embroiled in the latest Washington political controversy over a speech to a white supremacist group in 2002.
Grimm, a combative former FBI special agent who once threatened to toss a pesky reporter over a balcony at the Capitol, said in a statement Monday that he had decided to step down Jan. 5 “after much thought and prayer.”
“The decision is made with a heavy heart, as I have enjoyed a very special relationship with my constituents, whom I care about deeply,” he said.
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That decision closely followed a phone conversation between Grimm and Boehner, according to a report by the New York Daily News. While aides to Boehner declined to discuss the content of the conversation, Boehner has made it clear in the past that he has zero tolerance for criminal activity by members.
The 44-year-old Grimm admitted in federal court that he failed to report more than $900,000 of revenue from Healthalicious, a Manhattan health-food restaurant that he owned from 2007 to 2010 before winning election to his first term.
Grimm easily won election to a third term Nov. 4 despite getting hit last April with a 20-count federal indictment for tax fraud in connection with the operation of his restaurant. He was charged with underreporting gross receipts and paying some employees “off the books” to avoid taxes. Grimm is scheduled to be sentenced next June, and federal prosecutors are seeking a penalty of at least two years in prison.
Until now, Grimm insisted that what he did was no big deal, since many Americans routinely hide their true tax liabilities, and that he would likely hang on to his office.
WHY THIS MATTERS
With convicted Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) now out of the picture, Republican leaders were hoping for a fresh start that would allow them to burnish their brand and project a more diversified party in the new 114th Congress. But if it turns out that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) knew he was speaking before a hate group back in 2002 when he was still a state legislator---and therefore lied--he and his party could lose credibility.
In the past, other crooked lawmakers toughed out criminal charges or convictions for months and even years before finally succumbing to the pressure to resign. But Boehner and other House and Senate GOP leaders were determined to clear the decks of controversy and unfinished legislative business before taking charge of the two chambers for the first time in nearly a decade.
Yet that may not be doable, even with the departure of Grimm. The acknowledgement by House Majority Whip Scalise that he addressed a meeting hosted by white-supremacist leaders while he was a Louisiana state representative in 2002 is fast becoming a Washington political tempest that could mar next week’s grand opening of the new 114th Congress.
Related: Key House Republican Spoke to White Nationalist Group in 2002
Scalise, 48, who was elected the House Republicans’ third-ranking leader earlier this year, confirmed through a spokesperson that he once appeared at a conference of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a hate group that was founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, according to The Washington Post. Scalise and his supporters insist that he was unaware at the time of the group’s ideology and its association with racists and neo-Nazi activists.
“For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Boehner issued the following statement today in support of Scalise: “More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate. Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our Whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans.”
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