WEST PALM BEACH — An embattled U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson met with reporters Wednesday in South Florida to fight back against allegations by his ex-wife that he abused her repeatedly.
When asked if he would provide explanations of the four times his ex-wife, Lolita Grayson, contacted the police between 1994 and 2014 to claim he abused her, Grayson said he couldn't describe what happened except for in the most recent incident.
"The police didn't contact me with regard to the ones in Virginia, and with regard to the one here three years ago the short answer is she attacked me — the video taken at time demonstrated that, as did her own 911 call."
Grayson met with a handful of reporters at Dontee's diner in West Palm Beach, where he took questions for about an hour. It was his first sit-down interview in South Florida — a Democratic-rich territory he needs in the primary — since the allegations broke. Grayson, of Orlando, is in a competitive Democratic primary battle against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter for the Senate seat held by incumbent Republican Marco Rubio.
Earlier this month, Politico broke a story about allegations by Grayson's ex-wife. Police reports, obtained by the Times/Herald, show Lolita Grayson twice called the Orange County Sheriff's Office, in 2005 and 2014, to report abuse. She also did so in 1994 and 1999, when the couple lived in northern Virginia. Some reports state that she had visible bruises or cuts.
The video Grayson was referring to stems from the 2014 incident, the only one that had been previously reported. In that incident, Lolita Grayson went to the hospital with injuries she said Alan Grayson gave her, including bruising on her back, according to Orange County Sheriff's Office reports. Alan Grayson asked a staffer to accompany him to his family home that day and the staff took a video that appears to show her pushing him. Grayson's 18-year-old daughter backed up his side of the story. The sheriff declined to pursue the case.
"The video clearly showed she hit me twice in face," Grayson said Wednesday. "It shows her acting extremely hostile. In the 911 call she specifically asks whether I hit her or not, she acknowledges she hit me."
In the 911 call, she says "I pushed him."
Grayson has also said that Lolita Grayson abused their children and that three of the five of them have chosen to live with him. When asked Wednesday if he ever reported that to the Florida Department of Children and Families, he said: "I have called them on several occasions. In one situation she bit my son on the arm and called police and claimed he attacked her."
Grayson said that DCF never took any action.
"Here is the victim of abuse: It's me and my five children," he told reporters.
Grayson has been in damage-control mode. Four staffers quit Grayson's campaign following the abuse allegations story, and two liberal groups rescinded their endorsements: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America.
Grayson has denied the allegations. His lawyer, Mark NeJame, has called them "discredited and utterly false" and said they were intended to "smear an innocent victim in a vain effort to derail a Senate campaign and distract voters." The couple's marriage ended in an annulment last year.
Grayson touched on several other topics Wednesday as he tried to steer the conversation toward his campaign themes. He cited his high number of small dollar donations from online fundraising, his record getting legislation passed and his work on behalf of seniors.
He arrived at the diner in his "Seniors Deserve a Raise" bus, which he's taking on tour to promote his "Seniors Deserve a Raise" Act, which will immediately boost the Cost of Living Adjustment, and "Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth," which expands Medicare to include basic dentistry, vision and hearing healthcare services. These bills introduced in 2015 have not had any votes so far.
The Democratic establishment has been backing Murphy for months, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has said it will spend millions in Florida.
When asked his view about the Democratic National Committee party's leaked emails showing the party favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, he likened the plight of Sanders to his own campaign.
"I think it's terrible," he said of the DNC. "I've been facing far worse discrimination. The Sanders people have a righteous grievance, but I think it's nothing comparable to what the Grayson party has."
On Wednesday, Grayson also held a press conference in West Palm Beach to call for more Democratic debates. But around the same time as his press conference, Murphy sent a press release backing out of the only debate that had been scheduled: It was set to air Aug. 12 on WFTV in Orlando. Murphy said he was cancelling after the abuse allegations, saying that "Grayson has refused to address these issues."
At the start of the group interview at the diner Wednesday, Grayson initially objected when a reporter from the Palm Beach Post began to videotape the interview on his phone. The reporter said he had a right to videotape the interview and his newspaper would decide how much of it to post online.
"I don't usually get this kind of treatment," an irked Grayson told the reporter.
After Grayson's spokesman, David Damron, pulled Grayson aside, the congressman returned to the table and allowed the interview to proceed while the Post reporter videotaped it.
A Quinnipiac University survey released in July before the domestic abuse stories showed Rubio ahead of Murphy by 13 points (50-37 percent) and of Grayson by 12 points (50-38 percent). Rubio has an opponent in the GOP primary, businessman Carlos Beruff.
Before diving into his plate of hashbrowns and eggs, Grayson pushed back against the reporters surrounding him.
"You all become obsessed with nonsense...." he said. "All you do is literally lie in a sensationalist manner."