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Massa seeks to divert attention from harassment allegations

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Why did Massa leave office?
  • Eric Massa says health concerns, Democratic leadership led to resignation
  • Former New York congressman told CNN's Larry King that he didn't grope male staffer
  • Massa also alleges he was forced out of office because of his opposition to health care bill

New York (CNN) -- Embattled former Rep. Eric Massa sought Tuesday to turn attention away from sexual harassment allegations swirling around him in the wake of his resignation.

"I am leaving (the House of Representatives) because I have to fight simultaneously a potential reoccurrence of cancer, the Democratic leadership, and a health care bill that's going to destroy this country ... and a belief that my party has become what it campaigned against," he told CNN's "Larry King Live."

Massa, a New York Democrat, announced last Wednesday he would not seek re-election because of health concerns, and he 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 has said he learned of a House ethics investigation into his conduct after deciding to retire.

During a rambling interview Tuesday night, Massa called allegations that he groped a male staffer "not true," despite admitting just hours before in another interview to tickling a male employee.

"When you grab someone and you're wrestling, I don't know how to describe that word," he told King on Tuesday. "If that's the word [groping] you want to have an entire debate about, then I can't stop you."

He said the incident "wasn't sexual" in nature.

Massa and his wife, Beverly, have two children.

The tickling episode is one of three stories Massa has told in recent days since harassment allegations surfaced amid reports of an ethics committee investigation.

He first said the investigation was because of his use of "salty language" around the office.

He then said the probe was related to a sexually laced conversation he had with a male staffer during a New Year's Eve wedding for another staffer.

In an interview with Fox News' Glenn Beck earlier Tuesday, Massa recounted an incident at his 50th birthday party.

"Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me," he told Beck. "It's my 50th birthday, it was 'Kill the old guy.'"

When Beck asked whether there was "another shoe that is going to drop" -- whether there were phone calls or text messages that were likely to come out --Massa said he is "sure there are text messages because we bantered back and forth all the time."

He did not elaborate. The New York Daily News said it asked Massa about the text messages and the former congressman said they were "inappropriate."

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Massa also told Beck that he decided on his own to resign.

"I wasn't forced out. I forced myself out," he said, according to a transcript. "I failed. I didn't live up to my own codes. I own this."

When asked if he is gay, Massa told CNN's King he wouldn't answer the question because "it insults every gay American."

"In year 2010, ask my wife, ask my friends," he said.

When he originally announced he would not seek re-election, Massa said it was because of health concerns following a bout with cancer.

"In December, I was told I was facing a reoccurrence of that cancer and we're still waiting confirmation of that," he said. "My wife, my family, my parents, my inner circle said, 'For the love of God, don't kill yourself, Eric. Don't run again."

He later indicated he was forced out of Congress because of his opposition to the health care legislation, an allegation House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer dismissed Tuesday as "absolutely untrue."

Also Tuesday night, Massa addressed comments he made on his weekly radio show regarding White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel approaching him about a key political vote while they were showering in the House gym.

"I'm sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn't going to vote for the president's budget," he said on his radio show. "Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?"

Two White House officials Tuesday told CNN that the incident didn't occur.

"It never happened," said one of the officials, who said White House aides are at a loss to understand why Massa would make such an allegation. The officials asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the situation.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.