Hoyer Pushes Back Against Massa Charges

Posted March 8, 2010 at 12:36pm

House Democratic leaders Monday disputed Rep. Eric Massa’s (D-N.Y.) contention that news of an ethics investigation was intentionally leaked to try to force him from office before the health care vote, asserting that the information was only released in response to a media inquiry.

Massa aired his accusations, citing House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), on Sunday in his weekly radio address on New York station WKPQ Power 105 FM. An audio file of his show was made available by local station 13 WHAM-TV.

“I’ve been attacked by my own friends. Steny Hoyer had dinner with my family in Corning. He sat with my wife and children. He looked them in the eyes, told them what a great Member of Congress I was,” Massa said.

“And yet here he says, unprecedented for the House Majority Leader to take an ethics investigation allegation public, it has never been done ever, and it was done with malice of forethought. It was done with purpose,” Massa said.

The House ethics committee confirmed last week that it is investigating Massa, and the New York lawmaker said Sunday that he believes the inquiry is focused on sexually charged comments that he made to one of his aides at a New Year’s Eve function.

Hoyer’s office denied Massa’s accusations, stating that the Democratic leader responded to a Politico reporter’s inquiry about the allegations Wednesday and subsequently released a public statement.

“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 the statement, 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 himself.

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 to his home Monday.

Massa’s current chief of staff, Joseph Racalto, said Monday that he had not spoken with anyone in Hoyer’s office.

“The conversation with Hoyer did not happen with me, so I can’t comment, because I’m just not familiar at all with the time line,” Racalto said. “So I’m working that out, and I’m going to try to piecemeal it right now, but obviously I’ve got so many other things going on.”

Racalto added that he is “not sure who Hoyer’s staff talked to.”

Massa said Sunday that Hoyer had not spoken directly to him about the complaint, nor had the ethics committee contacted him at that time. Hoyer’s office confirmed the Maryland lawmaker had not personally spoken with Massa.

During his Sunday radio show, Massa said he was unaware of the ethics investigation until he had already announced his retirement last week. Massa plans to resign his seat at 5 p.m. Monday.

Massa said he knew the ethics panel had interviewed members of his staff but that he believed the inquiry focused on a fundraising letter that may have violated House rules.

“This is what Congress has come to. The government is not our enemy, but it is broken beyond repair. It is destroying and consuming itself,” Massa said Sunday.

“And if you think it’s not, if you think that’s not true … never before in the history of the House of Representatives has a sitting leader of the Democratic Party discussed allegations of House investigations publicly before findings of fact, ever,” he added.

Massa also criticized the ethics panel’s inquiry, alleging at one point that investigators were focused on his sexual preferences.

“They brought lawyers in. They took my staff members into a room and they grilled them for three and a half to four hours. And the first question that they asked them was, ‘Do you think Congressman Massa is gay?'” Massa said.

“Let me ask you something: So what if I was? … That’s an issue between me and my wife, and trust me, she knows the answer,” he added.

The Majority Leader’s decision to reveal the ethics panel’s investigation appears, at least in part, an effort to preempt the same negative media attention that Republicans faced in the wake of 2006 media reports that then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had sent inappropriate communications to former House pages,

“There is no parallel to the Mark Foley case where Republican leadership and Members hid what they knew and got involved in an effort to cover it up, rather than directing complaints to the ethics committee. That is what cost the Republicans at the ballot box,” a senior Democratic aide said. “This was handled in the complete opposite way. The allegation was directed to the bipartisan ethics committee, which means Republican members of the committee were involved and Democratic leaders of the House were not, and the appropriate process is at work without interference.”

In its investigation of the Foley allegations, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the ethics committee, found no violations of House rules, but it did criticize then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his staff for minimizing or trying to hide their knowledge of Foley’s actions.

Massa announced Wednesday that he would not run for re-election in November. He cited a recurrence of cancer as the reason for his decision. His office confirmed Monday that he will resign his seat as planned later in the day, despite allusions on his radio broadcast that he could opt to remain in Congress.

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.