WASHINGTON - MARCH 17: (FILE PHOTO) U.S. Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) announces his support for legislation that would use the tax code to punish executives who receive large bonuses after being bailed out by the federal government during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol March 17, 2009 in Washington, DC. The New York Democrat announced March 3, 2010 that he will not run for re-election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Eric Massa
Investigators from the House ethics committee have begun interviewing top Democratic aides over their handling of allegations that former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) sexually harassed several male staffers.
The interviews began earlier this week, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) confirmed on Wednesday.
“As we have since the allegations against Mr. Massa were brought to our attention, we are working with the ethics committee,” said Katie Grant. “We have been contacted by the ethics committee, and we are cooperating fully.”
The ethics committee interviews had not been previously reported.
A Democratic source said “several” Hoyer aides had been interviewed at this point, although exactly who has met with the committee has not been revealed.
"As the speaker said, our staff will fully cooperate with the ethics committee," said Brendan Daly, Pelosi's communications director.
Last Thursday, the House voted to refer to the ethics committee a resolution by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) asking for a formal investigation by the ethics committee – including the appointment of an special investigative subcommittee with subpoena power – to look into the Massa scandal.
Massa resigned last week, and acknowledged the ethics allegations in his resignation statement.
The ethics committee has not responded to the House vote, and sources close to the panel say they do not expect any announcement by the secretive committee this week, including whether an investigative subcommittee has been created.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the ethics committee, said in an interview that the panel was aware of Boehner’s resolution, but she declined to comment on what action, if any, the ethics committee has taken in response to it.
Several news outlets, including POLITICO and the Washington Post, reported last week that the ethics committee had ended its Massa probe following the freshman lawmaker’s resignation from office, but a senior Democratic aide insisted that the investigation was ongoing, despite Massa’s departure.
News that the ethics committee has begun interviews of senior Democratic staffers involved in the controversy also will likely short-circuit GOP plans to go to the floor next week with a revised resolution on the Massa scandal.
“Unlike House Republicans when they were in the majority, Democrats respect the bipartisan committee and the role it plays in protecting the institution,” said a senior Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The aide was referring to the ethics committee’s investigation into allegations against former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Foley was accused of having improper, sexually related contacts with teenage male House pages. The scandal helped seal the House GOP’s doom in 2006 as former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and some of his top staffers ended up having to testify before the committee.
POLITICO reported March 10 that Massa’s former chief of staff, Joe Racalto, had told the head of Pelosi’s “member services” operation, Jamie Lizarraga, in October that Massa was living with several aides, had hired too many staff members and used foul language around his staff.
There were no allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual conduct referred to Pelosi’s office at that time, aides said.
But senior top Pelosi staffers were made aware of Racalto’s concerns at that time, according to several Democratic sources, although Pelosi herself was not told about Racalto’s contact with her office.
Ron Hikel, Massa’s former deputy chief of staff, then contacted Hoyer’s office in early February with allegations of sexual harassment by Massa.
Hikel was told by Hoyer’s staff – at Hoyer’s direction - to inform the ethics committee of his concerns or Hoyer would. Hikel then contacted the ethics panel and was twice interviewed by committee staff before resigning from Massa’s office.
Again, senior Pelosi aides were informed of the allegations against Massa by Hoyer staffers after Hikel’s contact with the majority leader’s office, but Pelosi herself was not told of the incident, the aides said.
Hoyer has been particularly open about his dealings with the ethics panel on the Massa controversy, publicly confirming on March 3, the day the Massa scandal broke, that he was aware of rumors about the former lawmaker’s behavior.