Michael Grimm and Eric Cantor Have a Shady Rabbi in Common

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Photo: Andrew Burton/2014 Getty Images

Michael Grimm, the indicted Republican Congressman from Staten Island, had a sitdown with his congressional boss yesterday to “plead his case.” His fellow House Republicans have cut ties with Grimm, but his boss, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, appeared more understanding of Grimm’s situation. According to a report in the Daily News, the meeting went well for Grimm.

Cantor’s more sympathetic view may have been informed by personal experience. After all, the House Majority leader has had his own dealings with the same now-indicted rabbi who first made Grimm the target of federal authorities.

Grimm was indicted this week on 20 counts of tax fraud, but the FBI’s initial interest was in Grimm’s fund-raising practices. (The investigation is ongoing.) The trouble for Grimm started when “rabbi to the stars” Yoshiyahu Pinto urged his followers to come to the aid of the Republican Congressman. Pinto’s devoted flock donated over $250,000 to Grimm’s 2010 campaign, and some said they passed some of those gifts through “straw donors” to hide their contributions. 

Grimm has denied knowing about any improprieties, but questions about the case still irritate him. Grimm, a former FBI agent, made headlines a few months back for threatening to toss a NY1 reporter off a balcony after the journalist asked about the campaign finance allegations.

It turns out the more even-tempered Cantor, who’s met with the rabbi, benefited from the generosity of the same group of Pinto believers. In 2012, Laura Rozen, a journalist for The Nation and Al-Monitor, published her examination of Cantor’s federal campaign filings. Her finding:

The top seven donors to Cantor’s 2008 campaign are followers or associates of Rabbi Pinto. Together, the group of close Rabbi Pinto associates that made up Cantor’s seven top donors in 2008 gave about $330,000 to the Virginia Republican–almost 10% of the $3.9 million total Cantor raised for the 2008 race. None of them are from Virginia, and some had not previously given to US political campaigns.

Cantor hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing, nor have there been any reports of an investigation into his campaign finances. Still, his experiences may have given him an understanding of how someone like Grimm could get entangled with someone like Pinto, who was recently indicted in Israel on charges of bribing the head of the Israeli FBI. (Daily Intelligencer has reached out to Cantor's office for a comment and will update the item if we hear back.)

And so despite the decisive move against Grimm by Republicans in Congress, Cantor didn’t feel he had to move so quickly. He didn’t ask for Grimm’s resignation. “We have a system that affords the congressman the presumption of innocence,” Cantor said.

Grimm is up for reelection this year — the RNC has said it won't finance the campaign and the New York Post reports that he's already down $400,000 in legal fees, but so far he has given every indication that he intends to keep his seat.