Updated: 8:16 a.m.
Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) told a New York radio station Sunday that an ethics investigation into his behavior focused on sexually-charged comments he made to an aide at a New Year’s Eve celebration, but claimed he was unaware of an ethics committee investigation into the incident until after he had announced his retirement last week.
Massa said he had believed the committee was investigating an unrelated fundraising letter, and suggested that the ethics dust-up may have been orchestrated by Democratic leaders to get him out of office before the health care vote.
In an audio recording of Massa’s weekly radio show on New York station WKPQ Power 105 FM, made available via the Web site of local station 13 WHAM-TV, the New York lawmaker detailed the incident that he says is the center of the ethics inquiry.
“On New Year’s Eve, I went to a staff party. It was actually a wedding for a staff member of mine; there were over 250 people there. I was with my wife. And in fact we had a great time. She got the stomach flu,” he said.
Massa explained that he then danced first with the bride, who was not identified, and then with a bridesmaid. He said multiple cameras recorded the incident.
“I said goodnight to the bridesmaid,” Massa continued. “I sat down at the table where my whole staff was, all of them by the way bachelors.”
“One of them looked at me and as they would do after, I don’t know, 15 gin and tonics, and goodness only knows how many bottles of champagne, a staff member made an intonation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the bridesmaid and his points were clear and his words were far more colorful than that,” Massa said. “And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and said, Well, what I really ought to be doing is fracking you.’ And then [I] tossled 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. Now was that inappropriate of me? Absolutely. Am I guilty? Yes.”
But Massa said that the staff member whom he made the comments to “never said to me that he felt uncomfortable,” and charged that incident was raised by another aide who had witnessed the incident.
“It was a third-party political correctness statement,” Massa said. Massa’s former deputy chief of staff, Ron Hikel, has been identified in media reports as the source of the ethics complaint.
In the radio show, Massa also accused Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) of lying about the timeline of the investigation.
In a statement released Wednesday, Hoyer’s office said the Maryland lawmaker was alerted to the allegations against Massa in early February by his staff. The statement said Hoyer gave Massa or his office 48 hours to report the complaint to the ethics panel or threatened to do so himself.
“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 spokeswoman Katie Grant responded to Massa’s radio show early Monday morning, stating: “That’s completely false. There is zero merit to that accusation.”
Massa also suggested that Democratic leaders are using the ethics committee to get him out of office before the vote on health care because he voted against the House health care bill last fall.
Massa said, “Mine is now the deciding vote on the health care bill and this administration and this House leadership have said, quote-unquote, they will stop at nothing to pass this health care bill, and now they’ve gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots.”
The New York lawmaker said his chief of staff informed him in early February that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the ethics committee, had begun an inquiry and would interview each of his aides, but he did not know the substance of the investigation.
“It’s not a like a normal court, you don’t get to know who your accuser is. You don’t get to know what you’re being accused of. Anyone can accuse you of anything. The trade-off for that is this is all suppose to be incredibly secret until of such time there are findings of fact,” he said.
Massa said he assumed the inquiry focused on an unrelated fundraising violation.
“There was another ethics violation, because someone released a letter under my name for fundraising,” he said.
On the radio show, Massa said he has yet to be contacted by the ethics panel.
“I still haven’t heard anything officially from any Member of the ethics committee,” he added, while re-reading the statement he released Friday announcing his resignation, which is scheduled for Monday.
The House ethics committee confirmed Thursday that it is investigating unspecified allegations against Massa.
Massa surprised political observers when he announced on Wednesday that he would not run for re-election in November. He cited a recurrence of cancer as the reason for his decision.