Democratic Rep. Eric Massa will resign from Congress on Monday, only days after reports first surfaced that the freshman New York lawmaker was under investigation by the House ethics committee for allegedly sexually harassing a male staffer.
Massa was preparing the news in the Corning Leader, his local newspaper, but several media outlets were already reporting the news Friday afternoon.
In a statement released Friday, Massa directly addressed the ethics issue for the first time, acknowledging that he used language that might have made staffers uncomfortable. But he did not specifically address any specific sexual harassment allegations.
“I own this reality. There is no doubt in my mind that I did in fact, use language in the privacy of my own home and in my inner office that, after 24 years in the Navy, might make a Chief Petty Officer feel uncomfortable,” Massa said. “In fact, there is no doubt that this Ethics issue is my fault and mine alone. But in the incredibly toxic atmosphere that is Washington D.C., with the destruction of our elected leaders having become a blood sport, especially in talk radio and on the internet, there is also no doubt that an Ethics investigation would tear my family and my staff apart.”
Massa, who was elected in November 2008, announced earlier in the week that he would not be seeking a second term following a cancer scare in December.
He initially dismissed as “unsubstantiated” a POLITICO report that he was being scrutinized for improper advances to a junior aide in his office. In fact, he mentioned this report in his resignation statement Friday afternoon.
“At no point prior to this had any member of the Ethics Committee communicated with me directly - if fact I first read it on the internet,” Massa said.
The ethics committee formally announced on Thursday night that Massa was under investigation by the panel, although Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the committee, did not announce the reason for their probe.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also publicly acknowledged that his staff had told a former Massa aide that he should report the Massa harassment allegation to the ethics committee or else Hoyer would take it to the ethics panel himself. Ronald Hikel, Massa’s former deputy chief of staff and legislative director, was then interviewed twice by ethics committee investigators.
Massa’s assertion that he did not learn that he was under investigation by the ethics committee until after making his retirement announcement appears to contradict the facts of the case.
Joe Racalto, Massa’s chief of staff, told a Rochester TV station on Thursday that he was interviewed by ethics committee investigators several weeks ago in regards to the sexual harassment allegations against Massa, well before the case became a public scandal or Massa announced his intentions to leave the House.