House leaders were aware a month ago that an aide to Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) had accused the freshman Democrat of acting inappropriately toward him.
The incident, which was described only as a situation where a member of Massa’s staff was made to feel uncomfortable, was relayed on Feb. 8 by a Massa staff member to the staff of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), according to Hoyer’s office.
After he personally was made aware of the situation, Hoyer instructed his staff to tell Massa that he or someone from his office had 48 hours to lodge the complaint with the House Ethics Committee. Those instructions were followed, according to Hoyer’s office, whose staff then informed the senior staff of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa’s staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer’s staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa,” Katie Grant, a spokeswoman for Hoyer, said in a statement Wednesday night. “Mr. Hoyer’s staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa’s staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations.
“Mr. Hoyer does not know whether the allegations are true or false, but wanted to ensure that the bipartisan committee charged with overseeing conduct of Members was immediately involved to determine the facts,” Grant continued.
Democratic aides said they understood the Ethics Committee was still gathering information about the complaint, meaning the committee may not have informed Massa that they had launched a formal inquiry.
And the exact nature of the complaint itself remains shrouded in mystery. A Democratic aide said a Massa staffer was made to feel uncomfortable but it was not detailed how.
The allegations were at the center of Massa’s surprise announcement Wednesday that he would not seek re-election.
His sudden announcement was quickly met with press reports that he was under investigation for making inappropriate and possibly sexual advances toward a junior male staffer.
In a Wednesday afternoon conference call with reporters, Massa denied any such allegations were behind his decision not to seek reelection.
"There are blogs who are saying that I'm leaving because there are charges of harrassment against my staff," Massa said. "Do I or have I ever used salty language when I'm angry — especially in the privacy of my inner office or even at home? Yes, I have. And I have apologized to those where it's appropriate. But those kind of articles, unsubstantiated without fact or backing, are a symptom of what's wrong with this city."
Massa said on that call that he underwent his third major cancer recurrence scare in December, which he attributed to his decision not to run for re-election.
A 20-year Navy veteran who is married and has children, Massa was originally diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while he served in the military.
“I'm a very salty guy and a very direct guy, and I run at about 100 miles per hour," he said. "My doctors have made it clear to me that I can no longer do that.
Massa could not immediately be reached for additional comment Wednesday night.
-- This story was updated at 10:43 p.m.