The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate said Friday afternoon that U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, should "immediately" drop out of the race for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat, because of a scathing New York Times report over Grayson's controversial management of a once-off-shore hedge fund.
The Associated Press first reported the blistering statement from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who rarely issues such remarks. Grayson, a firebrand progressive, called Reid’s comments “absurd” and gave no indication Friday of ending his campaign.
"Grayson claims to be a progressive, but it seems like he has no moral compass," Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in the statement -- which came a day after a New York Times article that delved more deeply into Grayson's hedge funds, following months of other media reports on the topic.
The Tampa Bay Times has also investigated the hedge funds, which until last fall were based in the Cayman Islands.
The New York Times obtained “emails and marketing documents” probing what it called Grayson’s “double life” as both congressman and hedge fund manager.
The newspaper cited interviews and documents that it said revealed "Grayson told potential investors in his hedge fund that they should contribute money to the fund to capitalize on the unrest he observed around the world, and to take particular advantage when there was 'blood in the streets.' "
Grayson remains under a congressional ethics investigation because of the hedge funds. He denies any wrongdoing.
Reid said the "deeply troubling allegations" raised by the New York Times report "should disqualify anyone from a seat in the U.S. Senate."
"His actions aren't just disgraceful to the Democratic Party, they disgrace the halls of Congress," Reid said.
In a lengthy response sent to the Herald/Times, Grayson declared he's "running against a rigged system and the Washington establishment." He said Reid's remarks, although "no surprise," "rely on a false and misleading hyped story to try to pressure me out of this race."
Grayson -- known for his brash and direct speak -- pulled no punches on Reid, The New York Times, or his opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.
Reid is among many current Democratic U.S. senators whose political committees have given money to Murphy's campaign.
Grayson called Murphy a "corrupt establishment errand boy" whom he said Reid prefers, and Grayson accused Reid of "personally attacking the clear choice of Florida Democrats, making the party into a circular firing squad."
Murphy's campaign did not want to comment.
Grayson further blasted The New York Times, describing the newspaper's report as "replete with misleading statements, innuendo and outright lies, and despite that, there is nothing in the report that even suggest (sic) any improper or unethical conduct."
New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said Friday: “We stand by our story.”
Grayson said he "never used my congressional office to advance any business interest or for personal gain, and to say so is utterly deceitful." Grayson added that he also "resents" Reid's attack on his morals.
"I question the morality and judgment of any elected official, much less one in my own party, who would sink so low as to engage in such a smear," Grayson said.
Grayson and Murphy are in a heated party primary for a race that could ultimately decide which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.
Grayson has drawn passionate support from grassroots progressive donors, while Murphy has the backing of the party establishment.
Murphy has so far out-fundraised not only Grayson but also each of the four major candidates in the Republican primary. They are: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox.
Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff could also enter the GOP field.
Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald