Massa Media Blitz: Embattled N.Y. Democrat Tries to Explain Behavior

Former N.Y. Rep. Massa explained his abrupt resignation.

ByDEVIN DWYER via logo
March 9, 2010, 9:00 PM

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2010— -- Former Democratic Rep. Eric Massa of New York, who quit abruptly last week and promised not to go quietly, took to the airwaves Tuesday night in two cable network interviews to explain his behavior and the allegations that he sexually harassed two male aides.

But the more Massa tries to explain himself, the stranger his story gets.

Massa first said his resignation was for health reasons, prompted by a recurrence of cancer. He took the blame the next day for using "salty language." And Massa shifted his story again this weekend, suggesting in a radio interview that he was being forced out of Congress as part of a "setup" involving the White House.

In an hour-long interview with Glenn Beck on Fox News Tuesday night, Massa offered yet another explanation for quitting his post.

"Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did," he said. "Not that I groped him; I tickled him until he couldn't breathe, then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. … It was kill the old guy. You can take anything out of context.

"That's why I resigned. I don't know how else to put this. I own this behavior," he said.

Later on CNN's "Larry King Live," Massa tried to clarify the incident after King raised questions about its nature.

"There's no other way to define groping but sexual," King said. "Groping is sexual."

"I never admitted groping," Massa said.

Massa had been under investigation for allegations he groped multiple male staffers in "a pattern of … physical harassment," according to a Washington Post report.

A congressional source familiar with the investigation told ABC News the allegations are "much more serious" than Massa has acknowledged.

Massa's behavior and his subsequent accusations that fellow Democrats forced him out have triggered pointed responses from party leaders.

Pelosi on Massa: He's a 'Very Sick Person'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Massa a "very sick person" in an interview with Charlie Rose set to air tonight.

"He has been diagnosed with cancer," she said. "Perhaps his judgment is impaired because of the ethical issues that have arisen, and he is no longer in the Congress."

Massa has claimed his own party hounded him out of office because he had planned to vote against President Obama's health care bill.

"I am leaving because I have to fight simultaneously a potential recurrence of cancer, the Democratic leadership, a health care bill that's going to destroy this country, my opposition to it and a belief that my party has become what it campaigned against. It's a very, very clear situation," Massa told King.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday that Massa's accusations that he was forced out over his health care vote is "absurd … untrue."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also dismissed Massa's comments as ridiculous.

In a radio appearance last week, Massa said some of the pressure also came from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the House gym.

"I am sitting here showering, naked as a jay bird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel not even with 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. Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?" Massa said. "It's ridiculous."

Massa's case is likely to fade away now that he has resigned. The House Ethics Committee, which had been investigating the allegations, has no jurisdiction over former members of Congress. It's unclear whether any of the alleged harassment victims will pursue legal charges.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Teddy Davis contributed to this report.