Massa, Maf54 and the Ethics Committee

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And now to totally contradict my previous post stating why no one needs to talk about tickle-monster Eric Massa.

The House voted today 404-2 to recommend that the House Ethics Committee reopen their probe into Massa’s misconduct and examine whether House leaders were aware of his misdeeds and whether they failed act quickly enough. This follows on the heels of reports that an aide in Speaker Pelosi’s office was informed in October that Massa was living with aides, hired too many aides, cursed around staff and appeared to be going on dates with openly-gay male staffers from other congressional offices.

On first blush these don’t exactly rise to the level of ethics investigation material — congressmen have been known to live with aides in the past and if he wants to cheat on his wife with adult men, that’s his prerogative. Either way, the Ethics Committee should look into whether there was any more information relayed to leadership prior to the reported receipt of complaints about harassment in February and whether they responded properly or not.

Already, this case is being compared to the 2006 Mark Foley scandal. I’m not really sure that it rises to that level for a number of reasons. That being said, let’s take a look at what made the Foley scandal toxic for the congressional leadership who covered it up.

1) Members of Congress were aware as early as 1995 that Foley was interested in teenage male pages. Foley was elected in 1994. A male page who served in 1995 stated later, “Almost the first day I got there I was warned. It was no secret that Foley had a special interest in male pages.” In 2000, then-Rep. Jim Kolbe and Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl were informed of complaints of inappropriate e-mails from Foley to teenage male pages. In 2002 or 2003, Foley appeared in the page dormitory after-hours and was visibly drunk. This information was conveyed to Trandahl who then informed Foley’s chief of staff Kirk Fordham and Fordham subsequently informed Speaker Dennis Hastert’s chief of staff Scott Palmer that Foley exhibited inappropriate behavior around pages, but did not tell him about the drunken dorm incident. Trandahl stated that Hastert’s office was informed of Foley’s behavior in 2003 and was given regular updates about his conduct.

2) In the specific incident that led to Foley’s removal from the House, congressmen were made aware of the lascivious e-mails in early-2005 (the story broke in September of 2006). Hastert’s office was made aware in the fall of 2005 and Hastert was specifically informed in early-2006. Other congressional leaders, Majority Leader John Boehner and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, were informed of the emails and IM conversations in the spring of 2006. Boehner and Reynolds stated that they both told Hastert about the allegations.

3) Foley was hitting on teenage pages and engaging in sexual relationships with ex-pages. This is a far-cry from going on dates with adult congressional staffers. Parents entrust their children to Congress when they are serving as pages and expect that members of Congress aren’t going to be making sexual advances on them — or that, if such a case were to arise that congressional leaders would do something about it. Also, did I mention that Foley was hitting on teenagers, not adults.

I can’t really see the Massa issue rising to this level of extreme malfeasance by leadership. It appears to have come as somewhat of a surprise to people in Washington. This is probably because the guy was only a congressman for about 14 months. The complaints that were made with Pelosi’s office, if the story is accurate, rise to the level of talking to Massa’s staff, but certainly not to an Ethics Committee investigation. The complaints received by Hoyer’s office were rather more serious and his office referred the matter to the Ethics Committee almost immediately. If this is the full story, it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of the actual cover-up of Foley’s repulsive behavior.

Since the House already voted to send the issue back to the Ethics Committee, we’ll have to wait and see if everyone’s story is accurate.

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