Since the House vote today to refer to the ethics committee the question of what Democratic leaders knew about former Rep. Eric Massa before news of harassment allegations broke publicly, it’s worth looking at the timeline of what we know so far.
At some point in or before October 2009, Massa took out to dinner a member of Rep. Barney Frank’s committee staff, Frank said in a statement today. The staffer told another Frank staffer, who in turn told Frank’s co-chief of staff, Maria Giesta.
“Although this was not an ethical violation, Maria did think it should be called to the attention of former Congressman Massa’s Chief of Staff, Joe Racalto, a former colleague,” according to Frank’s statement. (Racalto previously worked for Frank.)
Racalto replied that he already knew about the episode and was mulling what to do. Frank said the staffer told him today that “nothing improper” occurred during the dinner with Massa.
According to the Washington Post, Racalto believed the meal fit a pattern of Massa “trying to spend time alone with young gay men with no ostensible work purpose.”
So in October, Racalto called Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s director of member services to express concerns about Massa’s behavior, including the meal with the staffer and that Massa was “living with several young, unmarried male staffers and using sexually explicit language with them,” according to the Post.
Citing an unnamed Pelosi aide, Politico reported that Racalto told the Pelosi staffer that Massa “hired too many staff members,” and that he had asked Massa to move out of the group living situation.
The fact that Massa lived with five staffers was also reported in a day-in-the-life profile in a local New York newspaper on Oct. 9. It’s not clear how, if at all, that report was connected to Racalto’s decision to go to Pelosi’s office.
Also in October, Racalto told the Elmira Star-Gazette, Massa wrote a memo to his staff apologizing for “chronic use of inappropriate language and pledging to hold himself to a higher standard.”
However, in his radio monologue last Sunday, Massa himself told a similar story but said it occurred in January:
“In January, I said something that was out of bounds. I said I had to go lick lollipops to raise money. Now you can use your imagination to know what I actually said. … And I actually had someone on the staff say, ‘Come on now, boss.’ And I said you’re right, I’m sorry. And I wrote a document and directed the chief of staff to have every member of my staff sign it, and I was the first signature. And it was a document to hold us to a higher standard in my office and in my own personal behavior.”
The week of February 8, Massa’s deputy chief of staff told the staff of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer about allegations of sexual misconduct by Massa, Hoyer told Politico March 3. Hoyer told his staff to tell Massa’s staff to take the matter to the ethics committee, according to a statement from Hoyer’s office.
“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,” Hoyer’s statement says.
It is not publicly known what specific allegations were brought to Hoyer’s staff.
On March 3, Massa announced he was not seeking reelection for health reasons. Politico broke the news that day that sexual harassment allegations had been made against Massa.
The ethics committee announced March 4 it was investigating unspecified allegations against Massa.
The GOP resolution referred to the ethics committee today directs the committee to investigate “which House Democratic leaders and members of their respective staffs had knowledge prior to March 3, 2010 of the aforementioned allegations concerning Mr. Massa, and what actions each leader and staffer having any such knowledge took after learning of the allegations.”
Late 3/12/09 Update: On MSNBC last night, Pelosi said what her staff was told in October didn’t “come close to any kind of an allegation.” She also said that some want to turn the Massa case into “a distraction.”