Defiant Massa Points Fingers

Member Quits, Hits Airwaves

Posted March 8, 2010 at 6:47pm

Scandal-tinged Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) ended his short but combustible Congressional career Monday night, acknowledging inappropriate behavior as he battled allegations that he sexually harassed a male staffer.

And in a development with far-reaching political implications, Massa left office preparing to take to the national airwaves to point fingers at House leaders, who, he insisted, were eager to get rid of him because he did not support their health care reform legislation.

Even before he faced an ethics committee investigation into sexually charged comments that he made to one of his aides, Massa’s pervasive use of vulgarities prompted earlier efforts in his House office to rein in his behavior, both the ex-lawmaker and a top aide admitted.

During his weekly radio show Sunday on New York station WKPQ Power 105 FM, Massa, a retired Naval officer, acknowledged that his “salty” language had at times offended members of his own staff.

“I am guilty of using language [that] I am sure that would turn someone’s hair white. But it was in the privacy of my own home and in the privacy of my inner office,” Massa said. An audio file of his show was made available by local station 13 WHAM-TV.

One incident in January, Massa continued, prompted him to issue a staff-wide memorandum, requiring everyone in his office — himself included — to adhere to “a higher standard” of behavior.

“I said something that was out of bounds. I said, ‘I had to go lick lollipops to raise money.’ Now you can use your imagination to know what I actually said,” Massa recalled. “It was inappropriate. I actually had someone on the staff say, ‘Come on now boss,’ and I said, ‘You’re right, I’m sorry.'”

“I wrote a document and directed the chief of staff to have every member of my staff sign it, and I was the first signature,” he added.

Massa Chief of Staff Joseph Racalto said Monday that he raised the issue of Massa’s language with the lawmaker late last year, prompting Massa in October to write and circulate an internal memo to staff promising to clean it up.

It is not clear whether Massa was in fact recalling the same incident in his radio interview, although the details are similar.

[IMGCAP(1)]”If I would hear something, I would say, ‘Hey, calm it down a little bit,’ because he would get upset and the language would be a little bit colorful,” Racalto said. “When he gets mad, you know, words fly. I brought it to his attention that he needed to keep himself — less colorful language. And he agreed.”

Ethics Panel Investigates

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, popularly known as the ethics panel, revealed last week that it had opened an inquiry into unspecified allegations against Massa, one day after he announced he would retire at the end of the 111th Congress for health reasons.

The New York lawmaker said Sunday that he believed the investigation targeted sexually charged comments that he made to one of his aides during the New Year’s Eve wedding of another one of his aides.

Massa, who is married, said on his radio show that he danced first with the bride, who was not identified, and then with a bridesmaid before rejoining the rest of his staff.

“I said good night to the bridesmaid,” Massa continued. “I sat down at the table where my whole staff was — all of them, by the way, bachelors.

“One of them looked at me and as they would do after, I don’t know, 15 gin and tonics, and goodness only knows how many bottles of champagne, a staff member made an intimation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the bridesmaid, and his points were clear and his words were far more colorful than that,” Massa said. “And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and said, ‘Well, what I really ought to be doing is fracking you.’ And then [I] tousled the guy’s hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where it wasn’t right for me to be there. Now was that inappropriate of me? Absolutely. Am I guilty? Yes.”

But Massa said the staff member whom he made the comments to “never said to me that he felt uncomfortable” and charged that the incident was raised by another aide who had witnessed it.

“It was a third-party political correctness statement,” Massa said.

Media reports have identified Massa’s former deputy chief of staff, Ron Hikel, as the source of the ethics complaint. Hikel did not return a telephone call Monday.

Hoyer Accused

Massa also accused House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) of revealing the existence of the ethics investigation in an attempt to force him out of office before the health care vote.

“Mine is now the deciding vote on the health care bill and this administration and this House leadership have said … they will stop at nothing to pass this health care bill, and now they’ve gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots,” Massa said, referring to a handful of Members who have recently stepped down or died.

Hoyer’s office dismissed Massa’s charges Monday, however, asserting that the Majority Leader only acknowledged the ethics investigation in response to a media inquiry.

“Mr. Hoyer was asked if he knew of the allegations before they were made public, and he answered, ‘yes.’ We then released a statement clarifying his knowledge of the situation,” Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said.

In that statement issued last Wednesday, Hoyer’s office said the Maryland lawmaker was alerted to the allegations against Massa in early February by his staff. The statement said Hoyer’s office gave Massa or his staff 48 hours to report the complaint to the ethics panel or threatened to do so itself.

Racalto, who did not attend the New Year’s Eve celebration, said he did not know who from Massa’s staff contacted Hoyer’s office. He declined to comment on the allegations against Massa.

“I’m not going to comment on sexual advances toward the staff,” Racalto said. “I think what I’ve heard, on the radio show, he discussed a lot of that. So again I would refer you right to the radio clip.”

The former Congressman is scheduled to retell his story Tuesday on the Fox News program hosted by conservative commentator Glenn Beck and on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

Massa is a former Republican who switched parties in part because of his opposition to the Iraq War. But he has been seen by Democratic operatives as personally mercurial and a political maverick. He opposed the health care legislation that the House passed because he preferred a government-run, single-payer health care system.

Massa, who surprised political observers when he announced last Wednesday that he would not run for a second term because of a recurrence of cancer, said in his radio show that he did not know at that time what the ethics committee investigation was about, saying he believed it focused on a fundraising letter that may have violated House rules.

‘Walking While Intoxicated’

Massa also said the ethics investigation may have uncovered an incident in which he said he was cited for “walking while intoxicated.” Massa said he had consumed a six-pack of beer at his Capitol Hill home after several hours of fundraising phone calls.

“I was guilty of WWI, walking while intoxicated, and they said, that’s so un-Congressional,” Massa said. He did not indicate who cited him or when the incident occurred.

The Capitol Police could not confirm the incident, and no records of a citation could be found in D.C. Superior Court electronic records.

“It’s not a like a normal court. You don’t get to know who your accuser is,” Massa said of the ethics committee. “You don’t get to know what you’re being accused of. Anyone can accuse you of anything. The trade-off for that is this is all supposed to be incredibly secret until of such time there are findings of fact.”

It is not known whether the ethics committee will release its review to date of the allegations against Massa, although individuals familiar with the ethics committee process said it is expected the panel will end its review.

“The committee has issued reports after Members have resigned,” said Rob Walker, an attorney with Wiley Rein who served as a top aide to the Senate and the House ethics committees.

In December 1987, for example, the House released its report on allegations against then-Rep. William Boner (D-Tenn.), despite his resignation from the House in October of that year after winning election to become Nashville’s mayor.

Although the investigation remained incomplete at Boner’s departure, the report both dismissed some charges and found that Boner had violated some rules, including the Code of Ethics for Government Service, for his use of a hydroplane boat for multiple years. Because the report was incomplete, it did not include a response from the lawmaker.

But Walker said that if the investigation is “not particularly advanced,” the House may opt to simply drop the matter because Massa is no longer under the panel’s jurisdiction.