There is little, if anything, Republicans can do to get New York Rep. Michael Grimm off the November ballot despite his arrest today on fraud charges.
“We are essentially handcuffed with him as a candidate,” a state GOP aide told ABC News. “This is no accident that it was just after the petitioning period.”
Grimm’s legal woes are welcome news to Democrats hoping to win the seat with a former city councilman, but Republicans can’t even replace Grimm with a more formidable challenger. They are essentially stuck and some state Republicans say the timing of the indictment is politics at work.
The petitioning process ended two weeks ago and there is some debate about the possible options the party has for getting him off the ballot, with state GOP officials believing there are three possibilities and election law experts saying only one is legal. All are unlikely, if not impossible, and two of them would need Grimm’s support.
The New York state GOP cites three ways to get a nominee off the ballot in the state. One: a nominee needs to be convicted of a crime, but it’s unlikely that would happen before November. Two: the candidate would need to move out of his district. The third is the most eyebrow-raising option, with a nomination of Grimm to the state Supreme Court giving him a way off the ballot because no candidate can be on the ballot in two places in New York.
In other words, Grimm, 44, would have to agree to work with the party in moving into another district or be willing to be nominated to a judgeship. He has sworn his innocence and has pledged to keep fighting, however, so without a change of heart, it’s likely he will remain the nominee.
Grimm, a former Marine and FBI agent, was indicted on charges of fraud, perjury and obstruction. He plead not guilty and was released on a $400,000 bond secured by his house.
Grimm has said he will keep fighting. “We are disappointed by the government’s decision, but hardly surprised,” a spokesman for the congressman said today. “From the beginning, the government has pursued a politically driven vendetta against Congressman Grimm and not an independent search for the truth. Congressman Grimm asserts his innocence of any wrongdoing.”
He’s due back in court May 19.
Republicans in the state see the timing of Grimm’s indictment and arrest as politically motivated because it took place days after the petitioning process ended.
“There is no other mechanism for anyone to remove him from the ballot, ” the state GOP aide told ABC News. “It’s naïve for anyone to think that this happened right when petitioning ended was a coincidence.”
The same aide said they are “leaving” the decision or negotiations with Grimm to the county party in Staten Island “where the decisions are made on the ground,” but “unless Grimm makes his own decision there’s nothing anyone can do.”
John Antoniello, the chairman of the Staten Island GOP, said the party is “absolutely not” looking to try to get Grimm off the ballot and will stand with him.
“There are no changes at all. We are still supporting him 100 percent,” Antoniello said.
And when asked whether he agreed with the state party’s belief that the timing was politically motivated in order to keep Grimm on the ballot, he said, “Of course.”
“Just think of who runs the Justice Department,” Antoniello said, referring to Attorney General Eric Holder. “It is politically motivated without a doubt.”
A DOJ official told ABC News that the Public Integrity Section and other offices in Washington were not actively involved in bringing these charges and instead the case was led by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Officials at Justice Department headquarters did, however, have final sign-off on the case and, indeed, were given a detailed briefing on the plans before prosecutors notified Grimm’s lawyer that the congressman was to be indicted.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn were working under a self-imposed deadline of the first week of May, officials told ABC News. Because of the impending election, they decided they would delay moving forward with the case if they couldn’t announce it by this week out of fear their actions would be portrayed as political.
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a news conference Monday, “We follow the evidence and we bring a case when it is ready.”
New York state election law experts disagreed with the party and believe that a judgeship is the only way to get Grimm off the ballot.
Laurence Laufer, New York City campaign finance and election law attorney at Genova, Burns, Giantomasi and Webster, told ABC News that nominating Grimm for a state Supreme Court judgeship is the sole way and there has been precedent of placeholder candidates on minor party lines being nominated to the court to get them off the ballot.
Jerry Goldfeder, an election law attorney with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP in New York City, agreed, noting that even a resignation would not get Grimm off the ballot.
“He can resign, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the term starting in January. He is on the ballot,” Goldfeder said. “There is no other way around getting him off the ballot.”
Despite Grimm’s legal woes before today, there is no primary because no Republican challenger stepped forward.
ABC News’ Michael Levine, Josh Margolin, and Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.