Correction to This Article
This article about the staff of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) being alerted to concerns about the behavior of then-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) incorrectly stated that Pelosi's office did not respond to a request for comment. A Pelosi aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the matter, provided information and confirmed elements of the article.

Nancy Pelosi's office was told of concerns about Eric Massa

Eric Massa resigned his House seat this week under a sexual harassment cloud, claiming fellow Democrats forced his ouster to keep him from voting against their health care bill. It's the latest claim in a changing stream of explanations. (March 10)
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was notified in October by then-Rep. Eric Massa's top aide of concerns about the New York Democrat's behavior, two congressional sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday night.

Joe Racalto, Massa's chief of staff, was uneasy that Massa, 50, was living with several young, unmarried male staffers and using sexually explicit language with them, one source said. But what finally prompted him to call Pelosi's director of member services, the source said, was a lunch date that Massa made with a congressional aide in his 20s who worked in the office of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

According to a person briefed on the call, Racalto was concerned that the lunch followed a pattern by Massa -- who is married and has two children -- of trying to spend time alone with young gay men with no ostensible work purpose. Racalto, according to this person, also alerted Frank's chief of staff. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the matter.

Massa resigned from the House on Monday amid questions about his conduct.

Neither Racalto nor anyone from Pelosi's office responded immediately to requests for comment Wednesday night. Massa could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The revelation about warnings to Pelosi's office comes as the House ethics committee closed its short-lived investigation of allegations that Massa groped and sexually harassed several young, male staffers in his office, according to two sources familiar with the decision.

The committee concluded that Massa's resignation put him outside the reach of any punishment it could impose and would render any findings irrelevant. The decision set up a political battle with House Republicans, who are already targeting congressional Democrats with campaign ads saying they have failed to look deeply enough into the ethical transgressions of their party members.

Republicans signaled Wednesday that they wanted the inquiry to continue, despite Massa's departure. Senior Republicans in the House said the public deserves to know whether Democratic leaders were aware of the allegations of Massa's misconduct longer than they have acknowledged and whether they failed to act to protect junior staffers.

GOP leaders cited as precedent the committee's 2006 decision to investigate claims that Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, sent sexually explicit messages to former male pages. The committee's decision came after Foley stepped down from Congress. That inquiry also examined how some House leaders ignored claims about Foley's conduct while others tried to shield his behavior from public disclosure.

Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) said it would be only fair for the committee to investigate how Democratic leaders handled the Massa case, given the panel's decision in the Foley investigation.

"If things were being equally treated, of course the probe would go on," Issa said.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Wednesday morning that the ethics committee shouldn't stop its work, because there are "an awful lot of questions" surrounding Massa. "And at this point there are a lot more questions than answers, and I would hope that we would get to the bottom of some of these questions."

Massa, a former Navy officer, has given inconsistent explanations for his resignation and played down the harassment claims, saying they emanated from his use of too much "salty language."

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the claims relayed to the ethics committee were far more serious than that, involving multiple incidents and potential victims almost as far back as January 2009, when Massa took office. Massa's deputy chief of staff provided numerous complaints that Massa had groped young staffers and used sexually suggestive language, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

Massa had a low profile before the allegations came to light last week, but he left office in an intensely public way. Tuesday, in two interviews on CNN and the Fox News Channel, Massa at first said he groped a staffer and "tickled him until he couldn't breathe" as part of his 50th birthday celebration, then recanted in the next interview and said he never groped anyone.

In both interviews, Massa insisted he did nothing sexual.

Staff writer Ben Pershing and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company