The House ethics committee closed its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Rep. Eric Massa on Wednesday afternoon — even as an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged for the first time that her office learned of concerns about Massa far earlier than previously known.
Sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO that the bipartisan committee decided to close its investigation into the case because Massa’s resignation — effective at 5 p.m. Monday — deprived the committee of jurisdiction over him.
But House Republicans cried foul, with one senior GOP aide saying that the new information about Pelosi’s office “further underscores” the need to find out what actually happened.
There is no indication that anyone in Pelosi’s office knew of allegations that Massa, a Democrat from New York, had improper physical contact with aides until February, when Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office was informed of the accusations and shared them with a senior Pelosi staffer.
But a Pelosi aide told POLITICO on Wednesday evening that Massa’s chief of staff, Joe Racalto, informed a member of Pelosi’s “member services” operation in October that Massa was living with several aides, had hired too many staff members and used foul language around his staff.
Racalto also raised concerns about “the way Massa ran his office” and informed Pelosi’s member-services staffer that he had asked Massa to move out of the group house on Capitol Hill, the Pelosi aide said.
Democratic insiders say Pelosi’s office took no action after Racalto expressed his concerns about his then-boss in October.
Hoyer’s aides say he was informed of sexual-harassment allegations against Massa by Ron Hikel, another Massa aide, Feb. 8 and gave the New York Democrat’s office an ultimatum: Take the charges to the ethics committee within 48 hours, or Hoyer would.
Pelosi’s aide said that Hoyer’s office shared those allegations with a senior Pelosi staffer in February and that “the staff concurred that an ethics investigation was the proper course of action and were assured one would be initiated.”
When news of that investigation broke last week, Pelosi told reporters that her office had previously heard a rumor about Massa, but that there had been “no formal notification” of allegations against him.
“I asked my staff, I said, ‘Have there been any rumors about any of this before?’” Pelosi said last week. “There had been a rumor, but just that, no formal notification to our office that anything — a one-, two-, three-person-removed rumor that had been reported to Mr. Hoyer’s office that had been reported to my staff, which they didn’t report to me, because, you know what? This is rumor city. Every single day there are rumors. I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors.”
Racalto brought his concerns to Pelosi's member-services aide after a local newspaper reported that Massa was living with staffers and that he intentionally paid them low wages – allowing him to hire more staff.
Pelosi was furious with her top aides when she found out that they had been aware of the February round of Massa allegations but had failed to inform her, according to several sources familiar with her reaction.
Although Massa is no longer subject to investigation or punishment by the House, some Republicans — still stung from evidence that members of their party failed to do enough with allegations regarding former Florida Rep. Mark Foley — are pressing for the ethics committee’s investigation to continue.
“This is completely unacceptable,” a senior GOP aide said of the committee’s decision to end its investigation. “If it’s true that Democratic members of the House ethics committee are blocking an investigation of what their own leaders knew about Massa, it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Speaker Pelosi has no intention of keeping her promise to lead the most open, honest and ethical Congress in history. What are Democrats on the ethics committee afraid of? What is the Democratic leadership hiding?”
House GOP leaders were meeting Wednesday night to decide whether to offer a privileged resolution calling on the ethics committee to restart the Massa investigation, focusing on what Pelosi and Hoyer and their top aides knew, when they knew it and what they did about it.
A top House Republican said the resolution could be offered as early as Thursday, if Minority Leader John Boehner agrees.
Sources say Massa has been accused of groping several male aides. Massa has acknowledged using “salty” language and admitted on Glenn Beck’s Fox News program Tuesday night that he had tickled an aide at a birthday party, but he has denied that he did anything “sexual” with his staff.