Former Rep. Michael Grimm, trying to win back his seat from incumbent Dan Donovan, said at their first pre-primary debate Monday that his fellow Republican offered to help try to get him a presidential pardon for his felony conviction for tax fraud. Donovan denied making the offer.
The issue came up as the men engaged in their first campaign debate before the June 26 primary, frequently arguing and interrupting each other. The 11th Congressional District covers conservative Staten Island and a slice of Brooklyn.
Donovan assailed Grimm over his 2014 conviction, which cost him his seat in Congress and put him in prison for seven months. He pointed out that Grimm had won re-election just before pleading guilty.
“He betrayed our trust,” Donovan said.
Grimm pushed back, insisting that Donovan had dangled the possibility of a presidential pardon during a conversation the men had at Donovan’s home. Grimm has previously said Donovan put a condition on his help — that Grimm first drop his primary challenge.
“I’ll let everyone else decide, Danny,” Grimm said. “You look like a fool right now.”
Donovan said he merely mentioned to President Donald Trump that another former Republican representative from Staten Island wanted to talk to the White House about Grimm but that Pres. Trump wasn’t interested because that Republican hadn’t supported him.
Both candidates spoke of their support for Pres. Trump and of getting his agenda accomplished.
“They have the right president now,” Grimm said of voters in his district. “After this election, they’re going to have the right congressman.”
Donovan repeatedly pointed out that Trump endorsed him in a tweet last month.
Pres. Trump said Donovan was “helping me to Make America Great Again.” In a following tweet, he said Donovan “will win for the Republicans in November…and his opponent will not. Remember Alabama.”
The Alabama reference was to Republican Roy Moore, a Senate candidate who was nominated in a GOP stronghold state but lost the general election to a Democrat.
Grimm and Donovan spoke out against New York City’s sanctuary policy of limiting cooperation with federal immigration officials over illegal immigrants, and each took Mayor Bill de Blasio to task over the handling of the city’s troubled public housing system.