Video: Massa's Navy files

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    >>> what's ahead of you.

    >>> it turns out tickle fights and naked shower fights were just the tip of the iceberg . now the eric massa story gets even stranger. but only at the former congressman's request.

    >> it may be silly, but i guess we have to ask it. are you gay?

    >> well, here's that answer -- i'm not going to answer that. in year 2010 -- why don't you ask my wife? ask my friends, ask the 10,000 sailors i served with in the navy.

    >> unfortunately for eric massa , one reporter has done just that. and a few of those sailors have come forward. joshua green of "the atlantic " has spoken with some of the former congressman's naval shipmates, those men telling him, among other things, that massa was notorious for making unwanted advances towards subordinates. one of massa 's navy shipmates, peter clark , told green about an incident involving massa and his friend, stuart borsch. " stuart 's at the edge of the bed and massa starts massaging him. massa said, you'll have to get one of my special messages. he called them massa massages." clarke told green that tom massfield was also touched by massa . "tom lived on the upper bunk. when you're on ship, you're almost exhausted 24/7, so a lot of time you sleep with your uniform on. tom and massa shared a stateroom together. massa climbed up on the top of his bunk, which is hard to do -- you never crawl up on somebody else's bunk. he wakes up to massa undoing his pants and trying to snorkel him him." "countdown" researchers have found several definitions for this kind of snorkeling on urban dictionary.com, so take your pick. stuart borsch, the purported recipient of an unwanted massa massage did not address that specific incident with green, but confirmed that he was groped by massa . "in 1990 aboard the "uss jouette," i was awaked when a senior officer, lieutenant commander massa , seemed to be groping me. en as a lieutenant at. drinking. i shouted at him and he left. i mentioned the incident to several other officers. i did not officially report it." one of massa 's shipmates, ron moss , described him as "a cocky guy, competent, but he saw himself as a future admiral. it doesn't surprise me he wound up in congress." joining me now is josh green , senior editor for "the atlantic ." did any of these men report any of the incidents at the time?

    >> not at the time. they talked about it among themselves. but massa was third in charge among these ships. this was a senior officer and they fear retaliation. massa was thought of as a guy who was sort of on the fast track to be admiral, you know, difficult to go up against that sort of thing and report it. there's an obvious kind of stigma with this kind of thing, so it wasn't reported at the time.

    >> and of course, it's the navy, so you can't report every one of those things on a ship. now, massa has invited your research yesterday by talking about, you know, all these guys in the navy, they can vouch for me. how hard was it for you to find people to not exactly vouch for him?

    >> well, not very hard. i mean, the tip came from massa himself. found some people who had been shipmates, i talked to them, it turned out there'd been the same pattern of abuse towards subordinates that we read about massa engaging in in congress. they came forward, they went on the record, they gave, you know, statements, they corroborated each other's stories and it's pretty clear that this is something that was going on in the navy with massa as long as 20 years ago.

    >> now, you also found that people in the congress were not exactly shocked by this, that there were rumors, there was talk, there were people who had a feeling that this kind of thing was going on.

    >> yeah. i mean, one of these sailors had talked to, you know, former democratic chief of staff, had warned him that, you know, massa was a bad guy . but i don't think anybody had a real full understanding of just how kind of, you know, freaky massa was when it cams to some of his proclivities and practices towards subordinates. but, you know, doing the reporting today, i talked to a lot of former staffers of his, a lot of former navy shipmates, and it is pretty remarkable, you know, the pattern of behavior, the extent of it, and really the fact that it hasn't become public before now.

    >> and there's absolutely no bubble around him that protects him from this kind of information, protects us from getting this kind of information, in any way. i mean, it seemed like -- i mean where where , you did the real work of the reporting, but you didn't have to go through 1,000 navy sailors to find somebody --

    >> he didn't make it very hard. he gave me the lead on glenn beck last night. it was just a matter of picking up the phone.

    >> now, when the congressman resigns, there's no longer an ethics committee investigation of the congressman, but there are staff members involved in that investigation who may still be on the house payroll. is that a way to keep some form of this investigation alive by finding out what their stories are?

    >> i don't know. the news just broke a couple of hours ago that the house ethics committee was going to close down the investigation of massa , but i don't know yet if it's going to continue into staffers and to what other people knew at the time. if there's going to be any sort of criminal investigation , naval investigation, that sort of thing. i think that remains to be seen.

    >> and how do democrats think this is playing for them as they try to get serious and approach a final vote on health care reform ?

    >> you know, i -- i think it's pretty toxic. i think massa sort of followed the mark sanford school of crisis management , where he's going out and talked and talked and dug himself in deeper and deeper. and at this point, you know, appears more or less like sort of a lunatic. so he's kind of off doing his own thing. i don't know that this hurts democrats or republicans, particularly. i mean, his story at this point is pretty focused on, you know, massa himself. and he seems to be wanting to become sort of a republican darling at this point, you know, talking about rush limbaugh , going on glenn beck 's show. so it's not really clear who has ownership of massa as a political entity, but, you know, his early claims that, you know, he was being -- you know, this was being forced upon him. he was being set up because of his vote on health care , i think that's been pretty definitively knocked down at this point.

    >> josh green of "the atlantic ," thanks for doing the hard work of finding more people to tell more crazy stories about congressman massa .

    >> good to be with you, lawrence.

    >>> even before these latest allegations,

By Senior Editor
updated 3/11/2010 8:09:22 AM ET 2010-03-11T13:09:22

A couple of years ago, I got a tip about Eric Massa. It involved his aggrieved former campaign manager, Sanford Dickert, who was involved in an ugly dispute. Dickert claimed Massa had fired him and refused to pay him for work he'd done on Massa's unsuccessful 2006 run for Congress. Massa, he said, had retaliated by issuing a series of salacious charges against him, which Dickert denied, including that he had hired, and then given alcohol to, underage staffers, and also that he had made a pass at Massa's teenage son.

This seemed like a personal dispute that didn't have much news value and was, furthermore, impossible for me to adjudicate. I didn't write about it. Dickert wound up filing a libel suit against Massa, and in the court documents, which you can read here, the strange and bizarre charges are all laid out.

Then came last week's news that Massa, a 20-year Navy veteran elected to the House in 2008, was under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for allegedly groping three young male staffers. Massa sort of denied it, while claiming that the House Democratic leadership had set him up.

All this made the earlier episode worth revisiting. Dickert, who had since reached a settlement with Massa, declined to comment when I reached him. (Update: I see that Massa rescinded his allegations against Dickert and issued this joint statement on Dickert's blog.) But in conversations yesterday and today with some of Massa's Navy shipmates, it became clear that the behavior toward his subordinates that got Massa into trouble in Congress is part of pattern that dates to his time in the Navy.

According to Peter Clarke, a Navy shipmate, Massa was notorious for making unwanted advances toward subordinates. He tells the story of his friend Stuart Borsch, with whom Massa shared a hotel room while on leave during the first Gulf War. "Stuart's at the edge of the bed," Clarke says Borsch told him at the time, "and [Massa] starts massaging him. Massa said, 'You'll have to get one of my special massages.' He called them 'Massa Massages.'" Ron Moss, a Navy shipmate and Borsch's roommate, confirmed that Borsch told him this story at the time.

Borsch, now a history professor at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, didn't address that specific incident, but did confirm to me in an email that he was groped by Massa: "In 1990, aboard the U.S.S. Jouett, I was awakened when a senior officer, Lt. Commander Massa, seemed to be groping me. (I was a lieutenant at the time.) I believe he may have been drinking. I shouted at him and he left. I mentioned the incident to several other officers. I did not officially report it."

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Clarke says that Massa's roommate, Tom Maxfield, was also assaulted. "Tom lived on upper bunk," Clarke say. "When you're on ship, you're almost exhausted 24-7. So a lot of times you sleep with your uniform on. Tom and Massa shared a stateroom together. Massa climbed up on the top of his bunk, which is hard to do--you never crawl up on somebody else's bunk. He wakes up to Massa undoing his pants trying to snorkel him." Ron Moss also confirmed hearing this story from Maxfield. Maxfield did not return calls and messages left for him--I'll update if he does. Slideshow: Sex scandals and elected officials

Massa's shipmates didn't turn him in for fear that he would retaliate. "He was a cocky guy, competent, but he saw himself as a future admiral," Moss told me. "It doesn't surprise me he wound up in Congress." When news of Dickert's dispute with Massa appeared in the Rochester, New York, Democrat-Chronicle in 2006, several of Massa's former shipmates considered coming forward. One of them referred to the dispute as "classic Massa" in an email that was forwarded to me. As Moss wrote to Borsch and Maxfield just before the 2006 election, when Massa first ran for Congress, "I think it is ironic that Massa is accusing this guy [Dickert] of the same thing he tried with you guys (and who knows how many others?) and I think it is pathetic that he would drag his own son into the fray in a public forum." In the end, the former shipmates did not go public with their stories.

Video: Harrassment? However, Massa's behavior in the Navy was not unknown to some in Washington. Around the time of Massa's 2006 race, Clarke says he told Christopher Mansour, then chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, and now a senior official in the Interior Department, about Massa's history. Reached by phone yesterday, Mansour told me, "I just don't want to comment about this. I'd rather not be in this story at all." He added, "I've never met [Massa] or had direct interaction with him."

Massa announced on Friday that he would resign from Congress. That announcement came shortly after the House Ethics Committee had been notified of Massa's behavior in the Navy.

Copyright 2013 The Atlantic

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