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Massa investigated for allegedly groping staffers

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By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not long after Eric Massa joined Congress in January 2009, several male staff members began to feel uncomfortable with the sexually loaded language their boss routinely used, according to accounts relayed to the House ethics committee.

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As the months passed, rumors began to circulate in the office that the married New York Democrat had sexually propositioned young male staffers and interns -- allegations, according to two sources with knowledge of the inquiry, that included Massa groping at least two aides.

In the second week of February, Massa's deputy chief of staff contacted the office of Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer for help in dealing with the accusations. Once Hoyer (D-Md.) himself became aware of the claims, he delivered an ultimatum to Massa's office: Report the staffers' complaints to the ethics committee within 48 hours, or Hoyer would do it for them.

Last week, the panel's investigation became public, and Massa resigned, effective Monday.

Massa went on television Tuesday night for the first time since the allegations surfaced, but his comments in two cable television interviews contradicted earlier statements, serving only to raise more questions.

The freshman Democrat told Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck that "not only did I grope [a staffer], I tickled him until he couldn't breathe," then said hours later on CNN's "Larry King Live" that "it is not true" that he groped anyone on his staff.

He told Beck that he resigned from the House because he made the mistake of "getting too familiar with my staff" members, but he told King that he left primarily for health reasons. Massa, 50, has survived non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but he said he is afraid that he is facing his "third major cancer-recurrence scare."

On Sunday, Massa said he was set up by powerful Democrats such as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) as part of an effort to remove opponents of health-care reform legislation. He backed away from that claim Tuesday, telling Beck, "I wasn't forced out. I forced myself out."

"The notion that somehow the White House had anything to do with the series of events . . . is silly and ridiculous," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday, while Pelosi said in an interview with PBS's Charlie Rose that Massa is "a very sick person. He has been diagnosed with cancer." She added, "Perhaps his judgment is impaired because of the ethical issues that have arisen."

Massa told a radio reporter last weekend that he did not know about the ethics investigation until he read about it in an online news story and that Hoyer never contacted him about the allegations. He repeated those points Tuesday night.

But his staff earlier said Massa had been contacted by committee investigators.

Massa said on CNN that his former deputy chief of staff, Ron Hikel, "never said a word to me" about his concerns, and that the news that his aide had gone to Hoyer's office about them "breaks my heart."


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