Massa Details 'Salty' Comment That Led to Resignation, Slams Dem Leaders
A "salty" comment made in the company of drunken staff members at a wedding reception on New Year's Eve was all the Democratic "forces that be" needed to push him out of the House of Representatives and prevent him from possibly casting the vote that would kill health care reform, says outgoing New York Rep. Eric Massa.
This Oct. 14, 2008, file photo shows Eric Massa in Rochester, N.Y., when he was a Democratic candidate for Congress. (AP Photo)
Massa, while acknowledging he made an "inappropriate" remark, defended himself Sunday against the firestorm of criticism he's endured since it was revealed last week that he was the subject of a House ethics probe. Speaking on his local radio show on WKPQ-FM, he accused House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of lying and the Democratic Party of pushing him out of Congress over sexual harassment allegations in order to pass health care reform.
Massa, who supports a robust government health insurance plan, was one of 39 House Democrats who voted against the health care bill last year.
Massa said the incident that got him in trouble occurred at a staff member's wedding reception on New Year's Eve.
"I was with my wife. And in fact we had a great time. She got the stomach flu," he said.
Massa said he had just gotten up to sing Auld Lang Syne and had finished dancing with the bride and bridesmaid -- in full view of cameras -- when he sat back down at a table with male staff members.
That's when he made the "inappropriate" remark.
"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.
"And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and said, 'Well, what I really ought to be doing is fracking you,'" he said.
"And then [I] 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. Now was that inappropriate of me? Absolutely. Am I guilty? Yes."
But Massa said the staff member "never said to me that he felt uncomfortable" and "never went to anybody."
Rather, he said "somebody went to another staff member who was uncomfortable for him. It was a third-party political correctness statement."
Massa, 50, announced last Wednesday that a recurrence of cancer made him decide not to seek re-election in the fall. But two days later, following persistent reports about an Ethics Committee inquiry into inappropriate remarks made to a male staffer, he announced he would resign. The resignation is expected to become official on Monday.
On Sunday, the first-term congressman claimed that the "forces that be" orchestrated a character assassination against him to push him out for the sake of the health care bill.
"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," Massa said.
"The future of the Democratic Party rests on passing this health care bill. They can get anyone to say anything about me concerning anything at all and in fact they did."
Massa said he didn't know about the substance of the harassment complaint until after he announced he would not seek re-election -- he said he caught wind of an ethics inquiry after the wedding, but assumed it was about a separate matter.
And he said the accounting provided by Hoyer and his staff is a fabrication.
Hoyer's office claims the majority leader's staff was notified the week of Feb. 8 about the allegations, that Hoyer was "immediately informed" and that he told his staff that Massa should refer the matter to the Ethics Committee within 48 hours, or he would do so himself. According to Hoyer's office, Hoyer learned "within 48 hours" from the ethics committee staff and Massa's staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted.
"Steny Hoyer has never said a single word to me at all, not ever, not once," Massa said on Sunday.
"Not a word. This is a lie. It's a blatant false statement. And that's what triggered me to understand what in fact is going on."
Hoyer, though, did not claim he spoke directly to Massa.
"Mr. Hoyer was asked if he knew of the allegations before they were made public, and he answered yes," Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said Monday when asked about Massa's radio show. "We then released a statement clarifying his knowledge of the situation."
Click here to listen to the radio show at WHAM-TV.