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Updated, 6:34 p.m. | Republican leaders who had been confident six months before the midterms are now left evaluating how to handle the political fallout over Rep. Michael G. Grimm, the latest sitting member of Congress to say he’ll stick it out in office and run for re-election while battling a federal indictment.
Though House Republicans have had to deal with their share of low-grade scandals in the three and a half years since they reclaimed the majority, this will mark the first time they have had to consider if, or how, they’ll discipline one of their own who’s facing more damning allegations than just kissing a staffer or getting busted for cocaine.
Grimm, R-N.Y., took matters into his own hands Monday night, sending a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, requesting he be removed from the Financial Services Committee “in light of recent events.”
“Upon a successful resolution of pending legal matters, my intention is to resume said position as an active member of the committee,” Grimm wrote. It is the only panel on which he serves.
The congressman was charged Monday with 20 counts of illegal activity relating to the health food store he owned and operated between 2006 and 2010, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and impede the Internal Revenue Service. Grimm was also charged with filing false tax returns, knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants and lying under oath.
Grimm, who up to this point was best known for threatening to throw a reporter over a balcony inside the Capitol complex, maintains his innocence.
“I’m a moral man, a man of integrity,” the former U.S. Marine and FBI undercover agent told reporters at a Monday afternoon press conference outside a Brooklyn courthouse, calling the probe a “political witch hunt” and vowing to keep up his bid for a third term.
But back in Washington as lawmakers returned from a two-week recess, there was little from Boehner and his top lieutenants. The speaker’s office sent out the Grimm letter about the committee with a brief comment from Boehner spokesman Michael Steel: “The Speaker believes Rep. Grimm’s decision is appropriate under the circumstances.”
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters earlier Monday that he would not be issuing a statement until after he had spoken with Grimm.
And no one seemed willing to go on record standing behind or disavowing their colleague.
GOP leadership aides said that members were still filtering back into town, with the only pressing obligation a series of votes at 6:30 p.m. It was unlikely, they suggested, that leaders would be prepared to address the matter before their weekly Tuesday morning press conference.