WASHINGTON — A day after former Rep. Eric Massa acknowledged tickling a staffer but denied the intent was sexual, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer accused "some people" of seeking to politicize the situation of the New York lawmaker, who resigned amid accusations of sexual harassment.
Hoyer did not specify whom he was talking about in an interview Wednesday on NBC's TODAY show.
He was asked whether he thought Republicans were trying to politicize the situation involving the resigned Democrat to strengthen opposition to the health care overhaul bill.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, appearing on the same program, declined to directly address Hoyer's statement, saying "I think I'm a little taken aback and stunned by all of this." The Virginian said he believes "the American people are sickened by all of this."
Later in the day, The Washington Post reported on its Web site that the House ethics committee had decided to close its investigation into allegations Massa sexually harassed male staffers in his office. Massa resigned from Congress on Monday, essentially putting him beyond the committee's reach.
Massa appeared Tuesday on two prominent TV shows and discussed the allegations of sexual misconduct.
"It doesn't make any difference what my intentions were, it's how it's perceived by the individual who receives that action," Massa, D-N.Y., said on conservative commentator Glenn Beck's Fox News Channel show. "I'm telling you I was wrong. I was wrong. ... My behavior was wrong. I should have never allowed myself to be as familiar with my staff as I was."
The Post, citing anonymous sources, reported Tuesday that the House ethics panel was investigating the sexual allegations. Massa had previously claimed his misconduct was limited to using inappropriate language with staffers.
Asked directly on Beck's program whether he sexually groped anyone, Massa replied: "No, no, no."
Massa, however, recalled tickling a staffer at a birthday party.
"Now they're saying I groped a male staffer," Massa said. "Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday and it was kill the old guy."
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Massa said his actions may have been misinterpreted.
"If somebody on my staff was offended, uncomfortable, thought I was inappropriate, I own that," Massa said. "It's why I resigned."
Massa has given different reasons over the past week for quitting his seat before completing his first term, including health worries, a House ethics probe and charges fellow Democrats pushed him out because he opposed their health care bill. Democrats deny the charge. He took a slightly different tack Tuesday.
"I wasn't forced out," he said. "I forced myself out."
Massa added he did not live up to his own personal code of conduct.
Slideshow: Sex scandals and elected officials In a subsequent interview with Larry King on CNN, Massa again denied any inappropriate sexual contact with members of his staff. He also took exception to a question about whether he was homosexual.
"Well, here's that answer, I'm not going to answer that," he said, adding, "Why don't you ask my wife, ask my friends, ask the 10,000 sailors I served with in the Navy."
Massa, 50, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1996, defeated Republican Rep. Randy Kuhl in 2008 in a district long dominated by Republicans. He said his cancer returned in December.
Massa, who is married, is a 24-year retired Navy commander who served during the 1991 U.S.-Iraq war and later was special assistant to Gen. Wesley Clark during the conflict in Bosnia. His cancer diagnosis forced him and his family back to the U.S. for treatment. He spent his last year in the Navy as a cancer outreach advocate and later took a professional staff job with the House Armed Services Committee.
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