House Democrats on Thursday stopped a Republican bid to force an investigation of Democratic leaders aimed at determining whether they covered up sexual-harassment allegations against ex-Rep. Eric Massa.
Even in failure, Republicans planted questions about when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi learned about allegations from Mr. Massa's employees that he sexually harassed male staff members. The freshman New York Democrat resigned Monday amid a slew of conflicting statements in which he confirmed and denied that he groped staff members and argued that none of the contact was sexual.
By trying to make Democratic leaders rather than Mr. Massa the investigative subjects, Republicans attempted to turn the tables on the party that used ethical misconduct to win control of the House in 2006.
Republicans were hurt in that campaign by revelations that Republican leaders took no action after learning that then-Rep. Mark Foley of Florida sent sexually suggestive messages to former male pages.
In a resolution demanding an investigation with a June 30 deadline, House Republican leader John A. Boehner pointed to a meeting in October between Mr. Massa's top aide and a Pelosi staff member.
Mrs. Pelosi said in a March 4 news conference, after news stories appeared about Mr. Massa's conduct, that she only learned of the harassment allegations the previous day.
"I asked my staff, I said, 'Have there been any rumors about any of this before?' There had been a rumor, but just that, no formal notification to our office," she said.
Mrs. Pelosi said her staff did not report the rumor to her, "because, you know what? This is rumor city. Every single day there are rumors. I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors."
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer's office said a Massa aide went to the leader's staff in February with the allegations. Mr. Hoyer told one of his own aides to inform the Massa staffer that either Mr. Massa - or someone on Mr. Massa's staff - needed to go to the ethics committee promptly. Mr. Hoyer said he would report it if Mr. Massa or his staff did not. The Massa staffer reported the allegations.
The Republican maneuver to force an investigation was part of an all-out Republican effort to highlight Democratic ethical and legal problems in advance of the fall campaign.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a 20-term Democrat, had to step aside as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee after the ethics committee found he violated gift rules by accepting corporate money to attend two Caribbean conferences.
Mr. Rangel remains under investigation, prolonging the political agony for Democrats. The committee is investigating whether he used his official position to raise money for a college center named after him, and is looking into his belated reporting of hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets.
The resolution introduced by Mr. Boehner would have given the ethics committee no choice about investigating what Democratic leaders knew about Mr. Massa. Instead, the House voted 402-1 to allow the ethics committee to decide its next step. Rep. Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania Democrat, was the sole "no" vote.
The committee has five members from each party, but a tie vote would kill any proposal to investigate Democratic leaders.
The committee ended its investigation of Mr. Massa on Wednesday because his resignation took his case out the committee's jurisdiction.
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