WASHINGTON — Rep. Michael Grimm called an influential Israeli rabbi he has been accused of blackmailing an "inspiration" to his his congressional campaign in a bizarre 2010 television interview that also featured claims the religious leader predicted the 9/11 attacks in New York.
Grimm is currently under investigation for alleged campaign finance irregularities, including charges leveled by former Rep. Anthony Wiener that he sought to extort Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto in 2010. Grimm has denied the claims, but the federal investigation has also prompted a related inquiry in Israel, where Pinto aide and top Grimm funraiser Ofer Biton is also facing corruption charges. Pinto is embroiled in a corruption scandal of his own, having been accused of bribing a top Israeli police official.
But in the video, which was taped in the May of 2010 but aired on Israeli television last night, Grimm praised Pinto. "It's amazing ... I'm not Jewish, I'm Catholic. But the very first time that I met Rabbi Pinto, I can't explain, it was a very special meeting. You could almost feel the positive energy when he holds your hand," Grimm said in the interview.
Grimm explained in the video that he had met Pinto through members of New York's Jewish community, and that "I see the rabbi regularly and it's really an amazing story because you would think I am here asking the rabbi advice about my campaign," Grimm says. "Many politicians come to rabbis throughout the country just to garner financial support and possibly votes. I don't believe that's the way it should be."
Still, Grimm said Pinto was helping the campaign. "I think the campaign is going very very well, and there's no question that in large part that's due to the inspiration of the rabbi," he said.
Pinto's following in New York was a major source of both votes and financial support for Grimm's campaign.
A spokesperson for Grimm declined to comment.
During the interview, Grimm sat next to Ben Zion Suky, another Pinto aide who has also been identified as a witness in the Pinto case. The interview took an odd turn when Suky described in Hebrew how Pinto foresaw 9/11.
"The rabbi asked us, what are these buildings," Suky said. "And we told him, these are among the tallest buildings in the United States. And the rabbi told us, and as I tell you this I'm shaking, I'm so emotional, the rabbi said, a disaster a huge disaster involving planes will happen here. And he was soon proven right. The Rabbi has powers that I can't explain. Has he made mistakes? I haven't seen that at all."
The interviewer asks about donations to the rabbi's yeshiva, and Suky said, "People out of love to the Rabbi are willing to give everything, out of the bottom of their heart. The rabbi doesn't ask for anything, people just give."
Suky has donated to Grimm, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and to Weiner, who returned his money. He was one of the administrators of Rabbi Pinto's yeshiva in Manhattan and has been linked to the porn industry.
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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