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House Panel Lays Ground for Renewed Probe Into Massa Scandal

Eric Massa

Former Rep. Eric Massa poses in his official 2009 House photo.

In a rather extraordinary move, the House ethics committee on Friday voted to re-establish an investigative subcommittee relating to former Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y., in what suggests a formal inquiry could be launched into current or former member tied to the ex-congressman's scandal.

Massa resigned in 2010 after facing allegations of sexual harassment from a male aide. Massa told Fox News at the time that "not only did I grope (the aide), I tickled him until he couldn't breathe." He chalked it up to bawdy but harmless behavior learned in his Navy days.

An investigative subcommittee is only launched if the committee believes there is some "fire" where they see smoke. It's the congressional equivalent of an indictment. In other words, there may not be wrongdoing but the panel has investigated and believes there is something worth looking at.

Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., will serve as the chair of the investigative subcommittee. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., will serve as the ranking Democrat. Also on the investigative subcommittee are Reps. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Ben Chandler, D-Ky.

By way of process, the investigative subcommittee looks into the matter and then refers it back to the full panel with a recommendation. The recommendation could be one of action or a suggestion that it drop the issue. The investigative subcommittee may also suggest punishment.

Finally, the full House would have to sign off on any discipline against a member.

In the last Congress, the ethics panel started to probe Massa, but it dropped it when he resigned.The committee then dropped the investigation. 

However, there is precedent for the ethics panel looking into the conduct of former members. Such was the case with former Reps. Earl Hilliard, D-Ala., and Jay Kim, R-Calif., in the 1990s.

This also means the committee believes it needs to look at the conduct of current members and/or staff who may have known about the Massa matter.

For instance, a member of Massa's staff went to a member of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's office the week of Feb. 8, 2010 to inform them of the allegations. Hoyer's staff then informed the boss. In turn, Hoyer told Massa's staff that the issue needed to be presented to the ethics committee "within 48 hours" or Hoyer would make the referral himself.

"I had some indication, yes," Hoyer told Fox News at the time. "But I don't want to go beyond that. And my presumption is it will be dealt with in the course of business."

When speaking about Massa, Hoyer invoked the case of former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned in disgrace just before the 2006 midterm elections following revelations that he was sending inappropriate electronic messages to teenage, male House pages.

"I don't think it helps anybody in the instruction -- anyone of us on either side of the aisle. It certainly didn't help Mr. Foley," Hoyer said. "And that’s why it's so important that each of us conducts ourselves in a way that won't bring discredit on the institution."

Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant told Fox News Friday, "We look forward to seeing the Ethics Committee's report on this matter. Mr. Hoyer ensured it was brought to the committee as soon as serious allegations were known, and he has been very clear about what was known and when."

There are also questions as to what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., may or may not have known at the time.