March 10th, 2010
07:51 AM ET
13 years ago

Massa seeks to divert attention from harassment allegations

New York (CNN) - Embattled former Rep. Eric Massa sought Tuesday to turn attention away from sexual harassment allegations swirling around him in the wake of his resignation.

"I am leaving (the House of Representatives) because I have to fight simultaneously a potential reoccurrence of cancer, the Democratic leadership, and a health care bill that's going to destroy this country ... and a belief that my party has become what it campaigned against," he told CNN's "Larry King Live."

Massa, a New York Democrat, announced last Wednesday he would not seek re-election because of health concerns, and he denied reports that he had harassed one of his Capitol Hill staff members. Two days later, he said he would resign effective Monday.

The first-term congressman has said he learned of a House ethics investigation into his conduct after deciding to retire.

During a rambling interview Tuesday night, Massa called allegations that he groped a male staffer "not true," despite admitting just hours before in another interview to tickling a male employee.

"When you grab someone and you're wrestling, I don't know how to describe that word," he told King on Tuesday. "If that's the word [groping] you want to have an entire debate about, then I can't stop you."

He said the incident "wasn't sexual" in nature.

Massa is married, and he and his wife, Beverly, have two children.

The tickling episode is one of three stories Massa has told in recent days, since harassment allegations surfaced amid reports of the ethics committee investigation against him.

He first said the investigation was due to his use of "salty language" around the office.

He then said the probe was related to a sexually laced conversation he had with a male staffer during a New Year's Eve wedding for another staffer.

In an interview with Fox News' Glenn Beck earlier Tuesday, Massa recounted an incident at his 50th birthday party.

"Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me," he told Beck. "It's my 50th birthday, it was 'Kill the old guy.'"

When Beck asked whether there was "another shoe that is going to drop" - whether there were phone calls or text messages that were likely to come out, Massa said he is "sure there are text messages because we bantered back and forth all the time."

He did not elaborate. The New York Daily News said it asked Massa about the text messages and the former congressman said they were "inappropriate."

Massa also told Beck that he decided on his own to resign.

"I wasn't forced out. I forced myself out," he said, according to a transcript. "I failed. I didn't live up to my own codes. I own this."

When asked if he is gay, Massa told CNN's King he wouldn't answer the question because "it insults every gay American."

"In year 2010, ask my wife, ask my friends," he said.

When he originally announced he would not seek re-election, Massa said it was due to health concerns following a bout with cancer.

"In December, I was told I was facing a reoccurrence of that cancer and we're still waiting confirmation of that," he said. "My wife, my family, my parents, my inner circle said, 'For the love of God, don't kill yourself, Eric. Don't run again."

He later indicated he was forced out of Congress because of his opposition to the health care legislation, an allegation House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer dismissed Tuesday as "absolutely untrue."

Also Tuesday night, Massa addressed comments he made on his weekly radio show regarding White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel approaching him about a key political vote while they were showering in the House gym.

"I'm sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn't going to vote for the president's budget," he said on his radio show. "Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?"

Two White House officials Tuesday told CNN that the incident as described by Massa didn't occur.

"It never happened," said one of the officials, who said White House aides are at a loss to understand why the former congressman would make such an allegation. The officials asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the delicate situation.

–CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

Filed under: Eric Massa • New York
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Todd

    Watch the beck debacle. This guy ADMITS he was molesting his staffers, and has been doing it for years. It was perhaps the only time beck has ever ben entertaining.

    March 10, 2010 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  2. Tim

    What al liar!!! You are pathetic. There is no way to spin this one away!!! You are leaving because you sexually harassed someone and your butt (no pun intended) is in a sling!!!! I’ll let you in on a little secret…men don’t have tickle fights. Wonder how you wife and kids feel now that you’ve been exposed?

    March 10, 2010 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  3. BobH

    He should have consulted with the Gov. of California: he should have said he was being "playful."

    March 10, 2010 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  4. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    This guy is trying to divert the attention of the public from some questionable activities. This guy needs to shut up and let the review continue. Who knows what information was leaked. I don't care really.

    If he can't argue with someone over an issue (clothed or otherwise) shows that he doesn't know what he is talking about or can't support his stance on the issue.

    March 10, 2010 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  5. FM

    This man needs some help. He does not connect his answers with the questions asked wherever he goes.
    He has kept everyone guessing what happened!

    March 10, 2010 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  6. Annie, Atlanta

    This is one strange story. And we'll probably never have answers since the house ethics investigation will be dropped now that he retired. We'll see if it's pursued as a civil case.

    March 10, 2010 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  7. dutch

    I loved the Glen Beck show yesterday and all the looks of disappointment on the Beckster's face.

    March 10, 2010 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  8. Duck Fallas

    When Steele hear Massa be leaving, he sing Jimmy Crack Corn.

    March 10, 2010 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  9. rdepontb

    This poor soul is stressed out, so much so that he has been acting "abnormally" according to our mores and standards. Give him a break-he used the Glen Beck hour to apologize for his behaviors, actions, and wild words, after all. He acquitted himself quite well during that hour, despite Beck's hoping and wishing and trying to nail him to the detriment of the health bill and the Democrats in general.

    Let the poor man be, already. No good can come to any of us by hounding him while he is down like this.

    March 10, 2010 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  10. Kitchen Police

    This lizard brain needs to keep his hands off of his Congressional aids.

    March 10, 2010 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  11. Ruth

    This man is full of it and I don't mean chicken salad.

    March 10, 2010 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  12. Dave Harris

    The Beck interview was quite entertaining. Here were two lying sleazebags trying to get material with which to exploit the public for their personal gain. They have far more in common than they realize.

    March 10, 2010 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  13. Rupugliban are Repugnant Taliban

    This guy should finally come out and admit he is a Repugliban, he certainly acts like one.

    March 10, 2010 09:31 am at 9:31 am |