How do law enforcement officials react when a member of Congress threatens a credentialed member of the press with bodily harm in a public place on camera? Slowly.
Members of the Fourth Estate might seek more than an apology from Rep. Michael G. Grimm for his threat to throw a New York television reporter off a balcony during a post-State of the Union interview. But so far, they seem to be the only ones willing to demand some sort of action beyond accepting Grimm's day-after contrition.
The Radio-Television Correspondents Association, an organization representing more than 3,600 broadcast journalists who report on Congress, is still weighing how to handle the New York Republican’s aggressive treatment of NY1 television reporter Michael Scotto — and the reporters seem to be the only group intent on holding the second-term lawmaker accountable. Neither House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving, the chamber’s top security officer, nor the Capitol Police would comment Wednesday about whether Grimm would face criminal ramifications for threatening to throw Scotto over a Rotunda balcony, and saying he was going to "break [him] in half."
"We have no comment on that at this time," said Donald Kellaher, the House deputy sergeant-at-arms.
Grimm's office was not aware of any law enforcement inquiry into the incident as of Wednesday afternoon.
"I think for the most part all parties involved have put it behind them," Grimm Chief of Staff Chris Berardini said in an email. "The story seems to be over."
Immediately after the incident, Grimm released an unapologetic statement saying, “I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview first in lieu of several other requests.
“The reporter knew that I was in a hurry and was only there to comment on the State of the Union,” Grimm continued, “but insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot at the end of the interview.”
On Wednesday, Grimm attempted to justify his behavior in different terms.
“I’m a human being and sometime[s] your emotions get the better of you and the bottom line, though, is it shouldn’t happen, you shouldn’t lose your cool and that’s why I apologized,” Grimm said, adding that he and Scotto would be going out to lunch and that as far as he was concerned, the incident was over.
The incident, allegedly not the first time Grimm has lost his temper with a reporter, was sparked by a question about an ongoing investigation into the GOP lawmaker's campaign finances that recently led to an associate of the congressman being arrested and charged with illegally funneling $10,000 to his 2010 campaign.
The FBI began investigating Grimm, a former FBI agent himself, in March 2012 on allegations that he had attempted to extort campaign contributions from an influential rabbi. The Office of Congressional Ethics dismissed an investigation into the matter and Grimm has denied any wrongdoing.
On Tuesday night, Scotto's question provoked Grimm to blow his top while NY1's camera was still rolling.
“Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony,” Grimm said. “You’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.” The threat was captured on camera.
Capitol Police have jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds and are charged with enforcing U.S. Code, which prohibits threats of physical violence. Capitol Police spokespeople did not respond to questions about a potential investigation into Grimm's actions.
Scotto has indicated he will not be pressing criminal charges.
Members of Congress are also required to follow an official code of conduct. According to House rules, members are to behave “at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House” and the Ethics Committee has exclusive jurisdiction on how to interpret those rules.
The bipartisan House Ethics Committee would investigate Grimm if one of his colleagues filed a formal complaint or the watchdogs at the Office of Congressional Ethics referred the case to the committee. It could also initiate an inquiry into Tuesday night’s happening on its own. On Wednesday afternoon, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Common Cause called on the Ethics Committee to look into the incident.
A committee spokesman declined to comment on the matter.
House GOP leadership seems satisfied with Grimm's personal apology to the reporter.
“Rep. Grimm has apologized, and the speaker believes that was appropriate," Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
The RTCA is not so sure.
“The Executive Committee is going to look into the matter,” said NBCUniversal’s Frank Thorp, who serves as chairman.
The RTCA is responsible for supervising congressional press galleries for radio and TV reporters and aims to protect the rights and privileges of its members. That includes controlling credentials and going to bat for reporters in instances where their ability to do their jobs is hindered. One example would be appealing to the House sergeant-at-arms if a Capitol Police officer manhandles equipment.
Thorp declined to publicly comment on how the committee might respond.
The RTCA’s bylaws and constitution do not lay out formal procedures for how the organization might go about pursuing action against a member of Congress. Olga Ramirez Kornacki, director of the House Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery, also declined to comment on how a credentialed member of the gallery might go about seeking redress if he or she were threatened by a member of Congress.
Bob Hardt, political director for NY1, is suggesting that Staten Island voters might choose to throw Grimm "over their balcony" on Election Day.
Grimm is up for re-election in 2014 and has become a top target for Democrats in New York and Washington, D.C.