The House ethics panel has announced it is starting a "full and complete" investigation into the actions of lawmakers and staffers related to former Democratic congressman Eric Massa to learn if anyone failed to act in a timely way after learning of alleged sexual harassment by Massa of staffers. Massa quit Congress earlier this year after the allegations emerged.
Because Massa left the House, the ethics panel no longer has jurisdiction over him. But it does have the authority to investigate House members as well as staff. Some Republican members have alleged that House leaders dragged their heels after learning of questionable behavior by Massa.
The probe was being launched to determine whether:
"...Members, officers or employees of the House of Representatives had or may have had personal knowledge, or were or may have been aware by or through other persons, of such alleged or actual conduct on the part of former Representative Eric Massa that was in violation of laws, rules, regulations or other standards of conduct applicable to his conduct in the performance of his duties..."
Committee members also wanted to learn if:
"Members, officers or employees of the House of Representatives may have failed to properly report or fully disclose allegations of such misconduct..."
"... Monies or other payments may have been misappropriated, or otherwise fraudulently or improperly distributed or received in violation of laws, rules, regulations or other standards of conduct..."
The issue of money recently became a concern after reports that Massa paid his chief of staff $40,000 from a campaign fund a day after Massa announced he was resigning from Congress.
As the Washington Post reported:
The day after Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) announced he was resigning amid a sexual harassment scandal, the congressman wrote a $40,000 check from a campaign account to his chief of staff, federal campaign records show.
In the records, Massa described the March 4 payment to Joe Racalto as a "campaign management fee."
Racalto said through his attorney Friday that the lump-sum payment was for work on Massa's reelection campaign for 2010. Racalto agreed to defer being paid for 15 months -- until he learned Massa was not going to stay in office, the attorney said.
Under federal law, a congressional staff member's payment for work on a campaign must come from campaign funds, not from the salary received for congressional work.
The payment to Racalto came at a time of great turmoil in Massa's office. Because of his resignation, Massa's reelection campaign was, for all practical purposes, abruptly ending.
At the same time, the House ethics committee and numerous reporters were contacting Racalto, seeking to interview him about allegations that his boss had sexually harassed and groped his young male staff members. Racalto, as The Post reported last week, knew a great deal about several male staffers' repeated complaints concerning Massa's lewd talk and sexual touching.