House GOP weighs call for probe into Pelosi and Hoyer’s handling of Massa scandal

Jon Ward Contributor
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House Republicans are considering whether to ask Thursday for the Ethics Committee to investigate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer for their handling of information about misbehavior by former Rep. Eric Massa, who resigned Monday for sexually harassing male staffers.

Democratic aides scoffed late Wednesday at the idea, saying Pelosi and Hoyer acted properly and there are no grounds for an investigation.

But Republicans want to know why Pelosi was not told earlier of allegations that Massa groped his aides. The speaker’s staff learned of Massa’s misbehavior from Hoyer’s staff in early February, and did not inform her until early March, Pelosi told reporters last week.

A Pelosi aide also told The Daily Caller late Wednesday that her office was informed in October by Massa’s chief of staff, Joe Racolto, of concerns that the congressman was living with a number of male staffers, that he had hired too many staff, and that he was using profanity around them.

Racolto said at the time that he had asked the congressman to move out of the row house he was sharing with the aides. Massa recounted this conversation during a TV interview Tuesday, and said he moved into his office at the time.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that Racolto’s call was prompted by Massa’s advances toward a young, gay congressional staffer who worked on the staff of Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is himself openly gay.

Republicans say that if former Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel was admonished by the ethics committee for actions by his staffers that he was not aware of – which led to Rangel relinquishing the chair last week – then Pelosi could be held accountable as well for her staff’s inaction in not telling her sooner of what they knew.

The GOP move, which would come in the form of a privileged resolution on the House floor, was being discussed amid rumors circulating on Capitol Hill that Massa’s misconduct may have gone beyond groping male aides.

The Daily Caller will not publish further details about such rumors unless they can be verified. But they are the latest in a cascade of increasingly serious news about Massa’s past behavior. Reports surfaced Wednesday that Massa had a history, during his 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, of making unwanted sexual advances toward other sailors.

The GOP wants the ethics committee, headed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, to examine whether Pelosi, California Democrat, and Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, responded appropriately when they learned about more serious allegations against Massa in early February. The ethics committee on Wednesday dropped its probe of Massa, citing his resignation from Congress, but Republicans want it reopened to focus on leadership.

Hoyer said Tuesday that he learned of allegations against Massa on Feb. 8, a Wednesday, through a staff aide who had been contacted by a member of Massa’s staff, reportedly Ron Hikel. Hoyer directed his staff to tell Massa’s that their list of concerns should be shared with the ethics committee no later than Friday, Feb. 10.

House Republican leaders say that Hoyer should have personally confronted Massa when he learned of the allegations.

If Massa’s behavior included sexual contact of any kind, especially, that would have risen to a level of misconduct that required a dramatic intervention, Republicans said, citing standards set out in the 2006 report on former Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually explicit e-mails and text messages to underage pages.

However, a House Democratic leadership aide said the Foley report nowhere sets out a requirement that a member of Congress personally confront another member if they learn of allegations.

Additionally, the aide said, if Hoyer would have spoken directly to Massa that would have given the disgraced lawmaker even more grounds for his charge this week that Democrats pushed him out to move the votes needed to pass health care from 217 to 216.

“Can you imagine what Massa would be saying about leadership trying to push him out if Hoyer had in fact talked to him?” the Democratic aide said. “He could make up whatever he wanted about what Hoyer said, and it would not have just been a political consideration. It could have muddied the waters of a critical investigation and given him cover for his actions.”

“Going to ethics means the committee can help provide protection,” the aide said. “We went to ethics who could act appropriately … and [they] told us they were taking this up immediately.”

Republicans also want more details on what Pelosi knew and when, and why her staff did not alert the speaker sooner when they learned of Massa’s behavior.

Pelosi said last Thursday that she learned of the allegations against Massa on Wednesday, March 3, when he called to say he had been given a cancer diagnosis. She then appeared to refer to the reports of his misconduct when she said her staff had known about the allegations from Hoyer’s staff but had not reported them to her because “every single day there are rumors.”

“I asked my staff, I said, ‘Have there been any rumors about any of this before?’ There had been a rumor, but just that, no formal notification to our office that anything — a one, two, three person removed rumor that had been reported to Mr. Hoyer’s office that had been reported to my staff, which they didn’t report to me, because, you know what? This is rumor city. Every single day there are rumors. I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors,” Pelosi told reporters.

House Republicans are citing two reports – the 2006 investigation of Foley, a Florida Republican, and the just-concluded report on Rangel, a New York Democrat – to argue that Pelosi should have been more involved in dealing with Massa.

Republicans cite the last paragraph of the 89-page Foley report as evidence that members of Congress are required to “pursue specific and non-specific allegations of improper interaction between a member or House employee and a participant in the House Page Program – even if the allegations are not readily verifiable or involve the sensitive subject of a member’s personal relationship with a young person.”

Republicans say that the Rangel report shows that members of Congress are accountable for the actions of their staffers. Rangel was admonished because he accepted trips to the Caribbean that his staff knew were paid for by lobbyist groups.

“Rangel was responsible for the knowledge and actions of his staff in the performance of their official duties,” the ethics report read.

Pelosi’s office has said that its staff was pursuing the allegations against Massa by referring it to the ethics committee. That response would likely, from their perspective, satisfy both conditions set out by the Foley and Rangel reports.

A GOP leadership aide, however, said that merely referring something to the ethics committee does not guarantee any action.

The aide argued that the Foley report language requires a member of Congress to personally confront a lawmaker accused of misconduct. Even Hoyer, who directed Massa’s staff to refer the issue to the ethics committee, fell short of that standard.

A Democratic leadership aide responded that a direct confrontation is the “low bar for action.”

“That was jumped over and went straight to the high bar by contacting ethics immediately, which is the stronger action to take,” the aide said.

“This is very straightforward and simple: with the Foley case, [Republican] leadership knew, didn’t tell anyone, and covered it up,” the aide said. “In this instance, the moment we knew, we acted and took it to ethics. [Massa] was out the door within weeks, and he’s no longer in a position to do anything.”

Massa resigned Tuesday morning, after initially announcing last week that he would not run for re-election due to a cancer scare. By late last week his inappropriate advances toward male staffers had come to light.

By Sunday, Massa had changed his story to say that Democratic leadership was using the ethics allegations to “force him” out of the House as punishment for having voted against Obama’s health-care bill.

By Tuesday, he said he forced himself out, during an hour-long interview with Fox News’ Glenn Beck. He said in that interview that on his 50th birthday, Sept. 16, 2009, he groped and tickled a male aide but that it was not sexual.

“Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me,” Massa said. “It was my 50th birthday. It was ‘kill the old guy.’ You can take anything out of context.”

*This article has been changed to reflect updated information, including comment given by sources who had not responded at the time it was first published.