The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it has formally opened an investigation into Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), but will defer to the ongoing Justice Department probe of the Staten Island Republican’s fund-raising activities.
The committee, voting unanimously this month, said it would investigate allegations that in his first congressional bid in 2010, Grimm broke campaign finance laws by using a system of straw donors and promised an Israeli national help in obtaining a green card in exchange for helping solicit donations from a large New York synagogue.
Federal prosecutors have charged Ofer Biton, the former Grimm fundraiser, with violating immigration laws, but are also probing whether he helped Grimm exceed campaign donation limits and allowed foreign nationals to donate to his campaign. Additionally, investigators are examining whether Grimm, a former undercover FBI agent who retired in 2006, went into business with a restaurateur with ties to organized crime.
The Office of Congressional Ethics, the quasi-independent investigators who conduct preliminary reviews, advised the full ethics committee to dismiss the matter because it “could not establish with a sufficient certainty that a violation occurred” when Grimm served in Congress, the ethics committee wrote Monday.
The committee rejected that proposal based on precedent in which lawmakers have been rebuked for inappropriate actions in pursuit of their first term in Congress. “The committee unanimously voted to continue to assert jurisdiction over matters relating to a successful campaign for election to the House,” wrote Reps. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the evenly divided 10-member committee.
The panel’s announcement that it will defer to the Justice Department falls in line with other recent investigations, including most recently its probe of former representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and his efforts to secure the appointment to the Senate seat that was vacated when then-Sen. Barack Obama won the presidency four years ago. The ethics panel started a probe but stood down as the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago led an investigation into the matter. Jackson announced his resignation from office Wednesday amid ongoing inquiries into that matter and a related investigation of alleged misuse of campaign funds.
Though Democrats hoped to raise doubts about Grimm by highlighting the ongoing investigations, he won reelection this month just days after his district was ravaged by the affects of Hurricane Sandy. Grimm quickly emerged as a visible and frequent spokesperson for his displaced constituents on national television shows and toured storm damage alongside more popular federal and New York-area political figures.
Update, 1:20 p.m.: Grimm’s legal team welcomed the decision as a next step in their defense:
“Today’s announcement by the House Ethics Committee comes as no surprise. We appreciate the Committee’s decision to defer consideration of this matter while we continue to work with the Department of Justice to favorably resolve the false allegations against Congressman Grimm,” William McGinley, a lawyer with Patton Boggs representing Grimm, said in a statement. “Any fair and objective review of all of the facts in this matter will conclude that Congressman Grimm engaged in no wrongdoing. We are confident that the Department of Justice and the Ethics Committee will reach that result.”
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