[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/21/art.massa0303.gi.jpg caption="The House Ethics Committee launched a formal investigation of former Rep. Eric Massa on Monday."](CNN) - The House ethics committee launched a formal investigation Wednesday into sexual harassment allegations involving former Democratic Rep. Eric Massa, D-New York, elevating the preliminary investigation the committee began in March.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was interviewed on Wednesday by the committee, according to his spokeswoman, Katie Grant, who told CNN that Hoyer's testimony was voluntary.
Brendan Daly, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told CNN Pelosi aides also have met with the ethics committee and Pelosi is volunteering to appear before the panel. "The speaker has made herself available to meet with the ethics committee at their earliest convenience. Members of our staff have met with and fully cooperated with the ethics committee," Daly said.
The committee announced it established a subcommittee "to conduct a full and complete inquiry into whether the conduct of any member, officer, or employee of the House violated any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct applicable to the performance of their duties with respect to the allegations of misconduct involving former Rep. Massa."
Republicans have raised questions, publicly and on the House floor through resolutions, about whether the Democratic leadership knew of and responded to reports of Massa's behavior.
After the committee's announcement, House Republican Leader John Boehner said, in a written statement, "We need answers to serious questions: What did Democratic leaders know about former Rep. Massa's conduct? When did they know? What did they do to protect the staff and interns who were being subjected to harassment by their boss?"
Massa stepped down in March after allegations became public that he had inappropriate physical contact with male members of his staff. Initially Massa insisted he was departing for health reasons. The first-term congressman then alleged Democratic leaders forced him out because of his opposition to their health care bill. He later recanted his claim that he was pushed out.
Democrats insist they handled the situation appropriately.
Pelosi's office has acknowledged that Massa's then-chief of staff, Joe Racalto, spoke to an aide in the speaker's office in October about concerns about Massa after a New York paper published a story reporting Massa used foul language and was living in a group house with some of his male aides. That article did not include any allegations about sexual harassment involving Massa and his aides, Pelosi's office said, and no allegations of harassment came up in that staff-level discussion last fall.
When allegations of Massa's misconduct involving his congressional aides first surfaced, Hoyer acknowledged that a Massa aide had approached an aide in his office. Hoyer said at the time he told his aide to tell Massa's office to report any allegations of possible inappropriate conduct to the House ethics committee or he would do so himself.
Hoyer said he never spoke to Massa personally about any of the allegations and maintained it was the responsibility of the ethics committee to look into the matter.
The ethics committee's chairman, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, and its top Republican, Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Alabama, will lead the subcommittee, signaling how significant they consider the investigation. Massa resigned last month; the committee rarely initiates investigations of matters concerning a lawmaker who has left office.