Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story, including in the print edition of Friday's Washington Post, incorrectly said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer contacted Rep. Eric Massa's deputy chief of staff about alleged misconduct by Massa. The deputy chief of staff was contacted by Hoyer's staff.

Republicans are urging new investigation of former congressman 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 and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010

Republicans on Thursday pushed the House ethics committee to look into whether Democratic leaders responded appropriately to complaints of misconduct by then-Rep. Eric Massa, an inquiry that could become an election-year embarrassment for Democrats.

The House voted 402 to 1 to refer to the ethics panel a GOP-backed resolution demanding a resumption of an investigation of Massa's activities and a final report on the matter by the end of June. While the vote does not bind the committee to act, Democrats seem resigned to the idea that the inquiry will gain new life. The quick reversal came as Democrats began to acknowledge their increasing vulnerability to charges that they have tolerated ethics transgressions by caucus members.

Massa resigned his seat Monday, insisting he was guilty of nothing more than using "salty language" with members of his staff. But on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that he was under investigation for allegedly groping multiple staffers in several incidents. On Wednesday afternoon, the ethics panel met privately and decided to end the Massa investigation, citing the fact that he is no longer a member of Congress. Hours later, reports surfaced that the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had been alerted in October to the attention that Massa was said to be paying to young male staffers.

House leaders have said that allegations of sexual misconduct were reported to them in February and that House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) moved rapidly to ensure that they were investigated.

Pelosi's top spokesman said Thursday that the concern that Massa's chief of staff relayed to Pelosi's office in October was not viewed as a warning about staffers being at risk, but more as a request for advice in dealing with a troublesome member of Congress.

Pelosi said in an interview on MSNBC late Thursday that the information in October "didn't come close to an allegation," and she dismissed Republican complaints about the handling of the matter. "It's another subject people would like to make into a distraction," she said.

When Hoyer's staff told Pelosi's staff about the new allegations in February, the speaker's staff concurred that it should be referred to the ethics committee, sources said.

GOP leaders, however, went on the offensive after Massa acknowledged on national television Tuesday that he had tickled and groped one of his male staffers, and then recanted in an interview hours later, saying that he had not groped anyone. Top Republicans said that without a full investigation, the public would never know whether the speaker and Democratic leaders had taken the proper steps to protect congressional employees. They cited the inquiry of then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who was accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to young male former House pages. After Foley resigned, that investigation focused on whether House Republican leaders sometimes ignored warnings about Foley's conduct and whether others tried to avoid public disclosure.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), citing media accounts, said there are "serious and legitimate questions about what Speaker Pelosi -- as well as other Democratic leaders and their respective staffs -- were told and what those individuals did with the information in their possession."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Democrats are not living up to their promise of being the "cleanest and most ethical Congress in history."

"That promise is being broken every day," he added.

The allegations

In October, Joe Racalto, who was Massa's chief of staff, told a Pelosi aide that the New York Democrat was living in a townhouse with a group of young, male staffers, that he routinely used foul language in the office and that he had recently asked a young male aide in Rep. Barney Frank's office to go out to dinner. Racalto also discussed the dinner with Frank's chief of staff.

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