Skip to main content

Massa says Democratic leaders want him out

By Kristi Keck, CNN
Click to play
Massa explains behavior
  • House majority leader's office: "Zero merit" to lawmaker's claim Democrats want to get rid of him
  • Rep. Eric Massa says ethics probe stems from conversation he had at staffer's wedding
  • Lawmaker voted against health care legislation in November

(CNN) -- House Democratic leaders on Monday refuted embattled Rep. Eric Massa's allegation that they want to get rid of him because of his opposition to health care legislation.

"That's completely false. There is zero merit to that accusation," said Katie Grant, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland.

An aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, also denied Massa's claim.

Massa, D-New York, announced Wednesday he would not seek re-election because of health concerns and denied reports that he had harassed one of his Capitol Hill staff members. Two days later, he said he would resign effective Monday.

The first-term congressman said he learned of an ethics investigation into his conduct after deciding to retire.

Massa, who voted against the House's health care reform bill in November, said Sunday he was targeted because he was standing in the way of passing health care legislation.

Video: Ex-congressman 'set up'?
Video: A congressman resigns

"If you think that somehow they didn't come after me to get rid of me because my vote is the deciding vote in the health care bill, then ladies and gentlemen, you live today in a world that is so innocent as to not understand what is going on in Washington D.C.," he said on his weekly radio show on WKPQ-FM in Hornell, New York.

Massa said the ethics investigation stems from a sexually laced conversation he had at a New Year's Eve wedding for one of his staffers.

While at the wedding, Massa said he danced with the bride and bridesmaid as cameras rolled. He said that "absolutely nothing occurred" while dancing.

Massa said he then sat with some staff members who were bachelors and that most of them were drinking heavily.

One staff member "made an intonation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the bridesmaid," Massa said.

Massa said he told the staffer beside him, "Well, what I really ought to be doing is fracking you."

Massa said he "tousled the guy's hair and left -- went to my room because I knew the party was getting to a point where it wasn't right for me to be there," Massa said.

"Now was that inappropriate of me? Absolutely. Am I guilty? Yes," he continued.

Massa said the staff member to whom he made the remark never told him he felt uncomfortable. Instead, Massa said, someone else went to another staffer who was uncomfortable for the first staff member. That person in turn went to the House Ethics Committee, Massa said.

"It was a third-party, political-correctness statement," Massa said, reiterating that his information comes not from the ethics committee, but from what he read in newspapers.

The congressman said he wasn't told about the ethics probe until after deciding to retire and that he first learned details of the investigation from news reports.

"This is what Congress has come to. The government is not our enemy, but it is broken beyond repair," he said.

Massa shot down news reports that after Hoyer was informed of the allegations of misconduct, he directed Massa to report the charges to the House Ethics Committee.

"Steny Hoyer has never said a single word to me at all, ever, not once. Not a word. This is a lie. It's a blatant false statement," Massa said.

Hoyer's spokeswoman said it would have been inappropriate for Hoyer to have a personal conversation with Massa.

"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," said Grant, the House majority leader's spokeswoman.

Massa said on his radio show, "You have my apology and you have my resignation because I am a human being. But I will not go quietly into the evening. I will not be ashamed of my actions other than the fact that I used inappropriate verbal language and I was set up for this from the very, very beginning."

In a statement Friday, Massa said he already had decided to quit because of concerns about cancer before he learned a staffer had complained to the ethics panel.

"After I decided not to run again, I was told, for the first time, that a member of my staff believed I had made statements that made him feel 'uncomfortable,' " Massa wrote.

"I own this reality," he continued. "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. In fact, there is no doubt that this ethics issue is my fault and mine alone."

He went on to lament the "incredibly toxic atmosphere" in Washington, saying an ethics probe "would tear my family and my staff apart." Investigators, he said, would "be free to ask anything about me going back to my birth."

"I simply cannot rise to that level of perfection," Massa wrote. "God knows that I am a deeply flawed and imperfect person."

Massa defeated an incumbent Republican with 51 percent of the vote in 2008. But Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, also carried the same congressional district by 51 percent, which gives the GOP hope of taking back the seat.

Massa said Sunday that should he ever return to Congress, it would be as an independent.

A link to Massa's radio show was posted on the Web site of WHAM-TV in Rochester, New York.

CNN's Rich Barbieri contributed to this report.