The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday it was expanding its probe involving former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY).
The panel launched what it called a “full and complete investigation” that will study whether there was any cover-up by lawmakers or staff of sexual harassment allegations surrounding Massa.
Massa resigned last month in disgrace after word surfaced that he had sexually-harassed male aides. Massa initially shrugged off the accusations, charging they were “false.” A Naval Academy graduate and former top aide to Gen. Wesley Clark, Massa said he was a “salty old sailor” and sometimes used inappropriate language in the office. Massa contended he was resigning because of his health. At one point, he claimed key Democratic figures engineered his political demise because he voted against the health care bill.
The Ethics Committee voted unanimously to create an “investigative subcommittee” to look at the Massa issue. The establishment of an investigative subcommittee is the Congressional equivalent of an indictment. In essence, it signals that the Ethics Committee believes there is the potential for wrongdoing and the issue deserves closer scrutiny.
The ethics panel took the rare step of releasing the resolution it approved to created the investigative subcommittee. The resolution indicated that the committee wants to know if lawmakers, aides or other House employees had knowledge of Massa’s conduct and if they failed to “disclose allegations of misconduct.”
Furthermore, the committee also wanted to know if there was any misuse of money.
In early March, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told FOX he was aware of the sexual harassment allegations and had been “for some time.”
“I had some indication, yes," Hoyer said. "But I don't want to go beyond that. And my presumption is it will be dealt with in the course of business.”
A member of Massa’s staff went to a member of Hoyer’s staff in early February to alert them to the allegations. Hoyer’s staff then informed the leader. In turn, Hoyer told Massa’s staff to refer the issue to the Ethics Committee “within 48 hours” or he would do it himself.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) twice proposed the Ethics Committee launch a similar inquiry along the lines of what it initiated today.
In a statement, Boehner said he wanted to know what Democratic leaders knew about Massa.
“When did they know? What did they do to protect the staff and interns who were being subjected to harassment by their boss?” Boehner asked.
Since Massa resigned from Congress, the Ethics Committee can’t sanction him.
The ethics panel didn’t indicate when it would complete its investigation. The investigative subcommittee is comprised of four lawmakers, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Those lawmakers include Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), ranking member Jo Bonner (R-AL) along with Reps. Ben Chandler (D-KY) and Mike Conaway (R-TX).