House votes to reopen Massa probe

By John Bresnahan and Jonathan Allen
|  Thursday, Mar 11, 2010  |  Updated 4:17 PM EDT
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House Votes to Reopen Massa Probe

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Eric Massa

The House voted 402-1 Thursday in favor of a GOP measure calling on the ethics committee to reopen an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).

But a senior Democratic aide said the ethics committee never shut down its investigation in the first place – despite the fact that numerous sources familiar with the investigation told POLITICO, the Washington Post and other media outlets Wednesday that it had.

“The ethics committee never ended its [Massa] investigation,” said the Democratic aide. “The stories saying that it had were wrong.”

The GOP resolution, offered by Minority Leader John Boehner, calls on the ethics committee to create a special investigative subcommittee to look into the Massa allegations and report back to the full House by June 30 on the results of the inquiry.

Boehner and other Republicans want to know when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats, plus their staffs, first knew about the Massa allegations and how they responded to them.

"The American people expect that their members of Congress are held to the highest ethical standards," Boehner said.

POLITICO reported on Wednesday night that Massa's chief of staff, Joe Racalto, contacted an aide in Pelosi's office back in October to discuss problems with Massa's behavior. This was four months before another Massa aide, Ron Hikel, went to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office (D-Md.) with a specific harassment allegation against Massa.

Hoyer’s staff told Hikel to contact the ethics committee within 48 hours or that Hoyer would do so himself. Hikel did so, and he was twice interviewed by its investigators regarding his former boss.

A senior Democratic aide said on Thursday that Hoyer consulted with the ethics committee on how he should respond to Hikel’s complaint. Hoyer then issued his ultimatum to Hikel – go to the ethics committee or he would.

This consultation with the ethics committee by Hoyer has not previously been reported.

Massa resigned from the House on Monday following allegations that he sexually harassed multiple staffers, including alleged "groping" incidents. Massa later publicly admitted to improper behavior but said it wasn't sexually motivated.

The ethics committee must still act on the Boehner resolution for it to go into effect, Hoyer said following the House vote.

“This refers it [to the ethics committee] for such action as they deem appropriate,” Hoyer said of the Boehner resolution.

Fifteen members abstained on Thursday’s vote. Members of the ethics committee typically do not vote on the House floor on matters involving the panel.

 

The Boehner resolution calls for a full investigation of "which House Democratic leaders and members of their respective staffs had knowledge prior to March 3" of allegations against Massa and what actions each person with knowledge took; establishment of an investigative subcommittee within 10 days; requires full cooperation by members and staff and preservation of records; instructs that the Chief Administrative Officer of the House to ensure no destruction or deletion of electronic records, including texts, emails and voicemails; and calls for a final report by the ethics committee to be issued no later than June 30.

Republicans stated that "the possibility House Democratic leaders may have failed to immediately confront Rep. Massa about allegations of sexual harassment may have exposed employees and interns of Rep. Massa to continued harassment."

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said Democratic leaders, including Pelosi, should be forced to testify under oath about what they knew and when they knew it, as Republican leaders did in the Mark Foley affair in 2006.

He noted that Pelosi had called the Foley situation "abhorrent" and pressed for an investigation.

"The same standard should apply," Cantor insisted.

"I think the American people expect more," he added, noting that Pelosi "promised more."

GOP leaders added that the Massa incident, and the resulting media uproar since POLITICO first reported on the harassment allegations on March 3, "have held the House up to public ridicule."

On March 4, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the ethics committee, announced that their panel was looking into the matter.

Passage of the Boehner resolution will strengthen the hand of Bonnor and the other four Republicans on the bipartisan committee if they push to expand the investigation into what Pelosi and other top Democrats did with the Massa allegations. It takes a majority vote in the evenly divided, 10-member panel to create an investigative subcommittee, meaning at least one Democrat would have to vote with Bonner and the Republicans.

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