Ethics Case Against Massa Reopens

Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:45pm

The House Ethics Committee on Friday announced it has re-convened an investigative subcommittee to look into allegations that former Rep. Eric Massa sexually harassed a male staff member.

Massa, a Democratic lawmaker from New York, resigned in March 2010 because of allegations of sexual misconduct and a recurrence of cancer.

Though the committee first established an investigative subcommittee that April, it did not issue a public report before the House adjourned in December. Carrying over an investigative panel from one Congress to the next requires a committee vote to renew the subcommittee and reappoint its members.

“On July 14, 2011, the Committee voted to re-authorize an investigative subcommittee for the 112th Congress that had previously been authorized during the 111th Congress for the matter involving former Representative Eric Massa,” the committee wrote in a brief statement released Friday.

Under House rules, the Speaker and Minority Leader must each appoint 10 lawmakers to serve on potential investigative subcommittees in addition to the Members on the Ethics Committee. Subcommittees are made up of four members.

Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) will lead the Massa subcommittee and former ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) will be the ranking member. Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) will also hear Massa’s case.

According to a report released in January, the Massa probe is one of a dozen ongoing “investigative matters” that were open at the end of the 111th Congress. Investigative subcommittees had been convened for two of those matters, one looking at Massa and another that had charged Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) last August with violating House rules for a high-level staffer’s attempt to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held stock.

The Waters trial was postponed in November when the committee uncovered new evidence in the case. Two aides who had been working on the Waters case were suspended.

The stalled Waters trial has been a sore spot with government watchdog groups and Waters herself, who say it is unfair to drag out an ethics inquiry indefinitely without resolution.

“These delays, followed by uncertainty whether any action is forthcoming, are unfair to all parties involved in the case and reflect poorly on the ability of the House Committee on Ethics to fulfill its mission,” the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters and Public Citizen wrote to the Ethics Committee in March.

The committee has only recently been operating at full capacity, bringing on Daniel Schwager as its chief counsel and staff director in May and filling a “significant number” of vacant staff positions just two weeks ago. Since that time, it has confirmed that it is considering referrals from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics regarding Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and two staffers, in addition to the Massa probe. The committee has not commented on the status of the Waters case.

“Now that the Committee has announced the hiring of several new staff positions, including Staff Director, we are writing again to ask for public information on when the Committee plans to resume its work and adjudicate the case,” the watchdog groups wrote in a second letter to Bonner and Ethics ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) just last week. “Your Committee set up an investigatory subcommittee last October, but outside of the abrupt cancellation of a hearing, there has been no mention of the case. Still no hearings have been held, and, despite published reports of infighting among the Committee leaders, there is no indication about how or when the Committee plans to resolve this case.”