It didn’t take long for freshman Congressman Eric Massa (D-NY) to make an impact on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately for his staffers, Massa concentrated his attentions more on them than on his job. The Washington Post reports that a new report on Massa’s sexual harassment of his aides was far more serious than either Massa or Democratic leadership first acknowledged, and had gone on longer than admitted:
Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents.
The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. Most asked not to be named due to the ethics probe and the risk of hurting their job prospects.
This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known. Beginning in March 2009 and over the next several months, male staffers complained that their boss had touched them in a sexual manner, came up with reasons to have staffers travel alone with him on overnight trips, and expressed a desire to have sex with the men in the office.
But it wasn’t until after a year of staff complaints — when allegations about Massa’s behavior threatened to become a public embarrassment — that supervisors alerted congressional leaders to the problem. That led House leadership to demand the matter be referred to the ethics committee. Massa resigned a few weeks later when the media reported he was the subject of a harassment probe. He declined to comment for this story.
It only took until March 2009 for complaints to start getting generated about Massa’s predatory behavior in the office. That’s when one staffer notified Massa’s chief of staff, Joe Racalto, that he had been molested during the 2008 campaign. Two sources told the Post that not only did Racalto believe them, but admitted to being victimized by Massa himself.
So why didn’t Racalto report the problem, as the rules dictate? The Post’s report shows that Racalto intervened on a number of occasions to prevent more harassment, attempting to keep Massa out of trouble. Unfortunately, Massa escalated his predatory behavior and began focusing on an intern in his office. But instead of reporting Massa, Racalto allegedly attempted to bully the staff into silence.
This looks at least as creepy as the 2006 scandal surrounding Mark Foley that helped Nancy Pelosi take control of the House in the midterm elections. The only saving grace here is that the Post article reports that Racalto kept Massa’s activities secret from leadership — which is certainly a conclusion Pelosi would like the Ethics Committee to reach — and that they pushed him into a resignation when finally informed of it. Of course, the same was true for Foley and the GOP as well, and it didn’t do them any good in the 2006 election.