By Susan Crabtree and Jordan Fabian - 03/10/10 01:25 AM EST
The scandal surrounding ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) took several extraordinary turns on Tuesday as new allegations surfaced that Massa groped male staffers and behaved improperly with interns.
Massa took to Fox television’s Glenn Beck show on Tuesday to deny the allegations in a sometimes bizarre interview.
He showed photos from his Navy career to illustrate that his physical behavior with staffers was innocuous, and held up an X-ray of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he initially cited in his decision to retire from office.
Democrats throughout the day had attacked Massa for charging that they got rid of him because of his opposition to their healthcare bill.
They also dealt with uncomfortable parallels to the Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) scandal.
Foley resigned on Sept. 29, 2006 amid reports that he had sent sexually explicit messages to House pages. The controversy contributed to Republicans losing the House a little more than a month later.
Democrats now face a similar situation given the sexually tinged allegations against Massa and last week’s forced resignation, on a temporary basis, of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) from the Ways and Means chairmanship.
On the Beck show, Massa acknowledged behaving inappropriately, but said the “groping” incident, which he said occurred at his 50th birthday last September, was taken out of context.
“Yeah, I did,” he said. “Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe. And they all jumped on top of me. You can take anything out of context.”
He also said that his chief of staff advised him to move out of a house he was living in with other bachelor staffers because he did not deem it “congressional.”
“If somebody on my staff was offended...I own that. That’s why I resigned,” he said.
The New York Democrat said several times that he has “tickled” his staffers and his Navy friends.
Massa credited his misbehavior but also said that he was tired of fighting the Washington establishment of both political parties.
“I can’t fight anymore; I can’t do it anymore,” he said.
House leaders have made it clear in the past two weeks that they want to learn from the missteps of their GOP counterparts in 2006.
After learning of the allegations against Massa, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) took a hard line, warning his office that Hoyer would tell the ethics panel of the allegations if Massa did not within 48 hours.
Hoyer and other leaders on Tuesday also pushed back hard against Massa’s charges. The lawmaker savaged them and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on his way out the door, saying House leaders pushed him out because he was opposed to their healthcare bill and describing Emanuel as the “son of the devil’s spawn.”
Hoyer called Massa’s statements “absurd” and “absolutely untrue,” while White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said they were “silly” and “ridiculous.”
House leaders did not react to the new revelations about Massa, first reported by The Washington Post Tuesday afternoon, but fretted behind-the-scenes about their implications — both for the public perception of Congress as an institution and for criticism over how Democrats responded to the initial complaints.
Massa has given several different explanations for his resignation.
He initially said he would not run for reelection because of his cancer, but a day later apologized for his behavior and said he would resign.
On Sunday, Massa had said the harassment allegations stemmed from his use of “salty language,” or from an episode at a New Year’s Eve wedding reception at which a male staffer suggested the married Massa should be chasing after a bridesmaid. Massa said he grabbed the aide sitting next to him, tousled his hair and suggested that he “should be fracking you.”
He also made the charge during that interview that House leaders were pushing him out because of his opposition to their healthcare bill.
In the ethics committee’s 2006 report on the Foley case, the panel determined that leaders have an obligation to confront the person accused of any improper sexual behavior so the unwanted or inappropriate activity could be stopped in its tracks.
Republicans are still questioning exactly how much Hoyer knew, exactly who he told, and whether he acted forcefully enough to stop the behavior.
That Hoyer knew at least some of the allegations against Massa recalls aspects of the Foley scandal, when GOP leaders did not immediately confront Foley about his activities and warn him of the penalties involved.
Unlike Republicans in 2006, however, Hoyer took steps that could have led to a bipartisan House ethics investigation.
By taking that action, Hoyer could avoid charges that he didn’t act quickly, though he could also face criticism for punting an issue to a panel known for slow-walking investigations.
The ethics panel did not acknowledge it was looking into any allegations against Massa until press reports appeared about the allegations three weeks after Massa’s staffer notified it of the complaints. Even then, the committee did not launch an investigative subcommittee to review the allegations, a sign that it is taking the matter seriously.
During the Foley matter, Hoyer, as well as then-Minority Leader Pelosi, said Republicans should have acted more forcefully to stop the behavior and protect the underage minors.
“What I’m saying is we have a pattern now for over six years under this Congress of a Congress that was unwilling to hold accountable the executive department and unwilling to hold accountable its own members and put its ethics committee on hold,” Hoyer told Chris Matthews on “Hardball” during the Foley scandal. “I think that is a major issue for the American people. And I think this tragic event, the Foley event, is an action which clearly should have been quickly addressed and resolved…”
This story was updated at 11 p.m.