House ethics committee confirms probe of allegations against Massa

By Chris Cillizza and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 4, 2010; 5:37 PM

The House ethics committee confirmed Thursday evening that it is investigating Rep. Eric Massa, a freshman Democrat from New York who announced his retirement from Congress a day earlier.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer's office disclosed the investigation Wednesday, hours after Massa said he would not run for reelection this November.

The ethics panel tends to reveal its activities publicly only in rare instances, as when House leaders have already discussed them. In a statement, the committee said it is "investigating and gathering additional information concerning matters related to allegations involving" Massa.

Neither Hoyer (D-Md.) nor the committee detailed the allegations of misconduct. A spokeswoman for Hoyer said the matter was referred to the ethics committee nearly a month ago.

Massa told reporters Wednesday that he is retiring for health reasons -- he has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma -- and he denied that his departure had anything to do with scandal.

"Now there are blogs who are saying that there were charges of harassment against my staff," Massa said. He admitted to using "salty language" in his office: "Yes I have, and I have apologized for it."

But Massa called suggestions that he was guilty of something more "unsubstantiated, without . . . backing" and "a symptom of what's wrong with this city."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she was not aware of any allegations of misconduct against Massa. Her staff had heard rumors, she added, "but just that, no formal notification to our office."

"This is rumor city," Pelosi told reporters. "Every single day, there are rumors. I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors."

Pelosi added that she had no idea Massa was considering retirement until the New York lawmaker called her Wednesday.

Massa chief of staff Joe Racalto defended his boss in an interview with a local TV station in Massa's district, WHAM in Rochester, saying Wednesday, "I can confirm to the best of my knowledge that the harassment charges are unfounded."

Politico, citing anonymous sources, reported Wednesday that the House ethics committee has received allegations that Massa sexually harassed a male staffer. It cited anonymous sources for its information.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company