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House Calls for New Massa Investigation

Updated: 4:52 p.m.

House lawmakers on Thursday referred a resolution to the ethics committee that calls for a new investigation related to allegations that ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) sexually harassed his aides, including a review of when Democratic leaders and their staffs learned of the accusations and their responses.

The resolution, which the House voted to refer to the ethics panel in a 402-1 vote, was sponsored by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and echoes one introduced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was then Minority Leader, in 2006 after allegations surfaced that then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) sent sexually explicit e-mail messages to a House page. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) was the lone “no” vote.

“I think given all the other challenges that the Congress has to deal with, millions of people unemployed, a major health care reform bill on our plate, a couple wars, this is nothing more than a distraction,” Fattah said in a voice mail message. “I thought it was politically motivated. I voted against it.”

Massa, who announced last week he would not seek re-election citing a recurrence of cancer and then resigned Monday, denied harassing his aides in two national television interviews Tuesday night, even as he acknowledged having used profane language and an incident in which he aggressively tickled a male aide.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said he first learned of the accusation from his aides in early February after one of Massa’s staffers contacted his office.

The Maryland lawmaker has said his aides gave Massa’s staffer 48 hours to report the allegations to the ethics panel before they would do so themselves.

Pelosi has said she was unaware of the ethics investigation into Massa’s actions until he announced his retirement last week, but media reports Wednesday indicated members of Pelosi’s staff may have been alerted to other concerns about Massa’s behavior, including his decision to live in a Capitol Hill townhouse with several aides, as early as October.

A Pelosi spokesman did not immediately return a telephone call for comment Thursday.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which lost jurisdiction over Massa when he resigned, closed its inquiry into the New York Democrat on Wednesday.

The resolution would direct the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, known as the ethics committee, to form an investigation subcommittee within 10 days. The resolution would set a June 30 deadline for the committee to complete its investigation.

The resolution states the investigation would cover “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.”

But the ethics committee does not have to establish an investigative subcommittee, or even respond to the resolution. To order an investigation, the House would be required to approve the resolution itself, rather than refer the resolution to the ethics panel.

In the first half of the 111th Congress, the House referred another resolution to the ethics panel, seeking an inquiry into the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group and its relations with Members. The ethics committee took no action on the resolution, stating in a February report that it did so because it had already begun its own investigation at the time it received the resolution.

Boehner did not discuss the resolution Thursday other than to introduce the matter and request that it be read.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said only, “This is a matter that properly belongs before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.”

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