Eric Massa on "Larry King Live"

Eric Massa on "Larry King Live"

By Larry King Live - March 9, 2010

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Eric Massa is here -- his first prime time interview since suddenly resigning from Congress, admitting that he groped a staffer. He's called the leader in his own party a liar and the White House chief of staff, "the son of the devil's spawn."

But Massa says he didn't jump, he was pushed out of office over his opposition to the health care bill.


ERIC MASSA (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: And I was set up for this from the very, very beginning.


KING: Plus, actress Jessica Biel and Neal Hirsch confront the ultimate test...


JESSICA BIEL, ACTRESS: This is -- this is (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) challenging. Yes. This is challenging.


KING: -- punishing their bodies and minds in a dramatic struggle to conquer snow, ice and thin air.


Good evening.

You've just heard some of what makes former Congressman Eric Massa so controversial.

And we welcome him to LARRY KING LIVE.

He's in New York.

We're in Los Angeles.

Congressman, you've given three different reasons for your resignations.

Here's what White House Press secretary, Robert Gibbs, had to say about that today. Watch.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On Wednesday, he announced he would not seek reelection because of a health problem that he said was a recurrence of cancer. On Thursday, he said he wasn't running because -- not because of cancer, but because of his use of salty language. On Friday, he seemed to take some responsibility for his -- his actions at a different event and we learned that the Ethics Committee was looking into his actions relating to sexual harassment.


KING: Congressman, thanks for being with us.

Let's set the record straight, why did you resign -- health, ethics, Democratic leadership, what?

MASSA: All the above, Larry. It would be nice if Mr. Gibbs got it straight.

Listen, I've been incredibly outspoken about my personal feelings and my professional conviction that if we pass this health care bill using reconciliation, which is the same process that the Democratic leaders condemned when it was done with a different party, that it's going to create a schism in this country that's going to take a generation to overcome. And there's no doubt about did, I've been on the record over and over and over again.

By the way, you know, I...

KING: You didn't quit because they're proposing health legislation, did you?

If you're going to vote against it, why quit?

MASSA: Here, because it's all interconnected, Larry. That's why.

I am a cancer survivor. In December, I was told I was facing a reoccurrence of that cancer and we're still awaiting confirmation of that. My wife, my family, my parents, my inner circle said, for the love of God, Eric, don't kill yourself, don't run again.

When I made that announcement, literally, at that moment, within 15 minutes -- maybe 17 -- a Washington, D.C. newspaper dropped an article that said I was under an ethics investigation when no one had told me that -- not a word. That's called the Washington two-step. That's where you get set up, somebody passes information and out you go.

And in the face of facing cancer, fighting the Democratic leadership -- by the way, I'm a proud Democrat. I'm a Democrat in a place where we don't have Democrats. It's not like I'm in New York City. I'm in rural America, where the rubber hits the road. I'm one of the first Democrats to be elected in my Congressional district in -- in human memory.

And there, the people of my district, by the way, overwhelmingly, didn't want me to resign. But I can't...

KING: But you're...

MASSA: I can't stay in the fight at all.

KING: You are leaving because -- quickly, in -- in a sentence, you're leaving because?

MASSA: 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 became -- what it campaigned against.


MASSA: It's a very, very clear situation.

KING: You claim that the Democrats helped force you out because of your opposition. But Stony Hoyer -- Steny Hoyer, rather -- said today the reason for your resignation had absolutely nothing to do with your position on health care. He said the suggestion you were forced out by any Democratic leader is absurd.

Hoyer also said today he never talked to you about the ethics violation...

MASSA: Right.

KING: -- but the staff -- his staff talked to your staff.

MASSA: So...

KING: Did any Democrat say to you, you will get out or else?

MASSA: Oh, I've had that said to me a bunch of times. I have said that...


MASSA: -- that has been said to me in many, many ways by rank and file demands. Eric, you're stirring the pot. You know, we're unhappy with you. Leadership doesn't like you. You're taking too visible a position against this bill. Remember, I voted against Cap- and-Trade. I had the same kind of thing happen there.

But the bottom line is it's not about me. It really isn't. I'm collateral damage. I'm road kill. And in 72 hours, nobody is going to remember who I am nor are they going to care.

And if I can do anything as I leave, it's to raise a signal to my fellow Democrats all over this country that we are about to make a huge, irrevocable mistake.

And as soon as I said that, I go on the enemies list. I become the target. It becomes a...

KING: So...

MASSA: -- whisper campaign.

KING: All right...

MASSA: It becomes innuendo.

KING: Just so we under -- let me set it straight.

You're not saying that any -- any particular Democratic leader -- head of a committee, president, vice president, chief of staff -- asked you to leave?

MASSA: Well, I tell you what, my...

KING: Or are you saying that?

MASSA: My very good friend, Rahm Emanuel, made it very clear to me on several occasions that I was, quote, unquote, not a team player; that I was not -- that I didn't not have a future.

I had a -- I actually had a committee chair and I don't even remember which one it was, because I went home and wrote it down.

KING: But isn't it...

MASSA: Come up and say...

KING: -- isn't that fair game in politics...

MASSA: Sure it is...

KING: -- if you vote against your own president, it's -- the chief staff says to you, you're in trouble.

Why wouldn't he say that?


KING: That's logical.

MASSA: I -- I don't argue with it. But here's the issue, Larry. I am in trouble because I'm a Democrat standing up to a horrific mistake we are about to make, period. And -- and you can see over and over again exactly how, once you get on the wrong side of leadership -- and this is something that every single American who watches this understands. You end up bucking your party, you're out. And it's happened over and over and over again and...

KING: But your vote isn't going to...

MASSA: -- I'm just the most recruit example.

KING: Your vote isn't going to change health care, though, is it?

MASSA: Well, according to "Roll" -- this is an interesting point. According to -- this came to me. According to "Roll Call" newspaper, once I'm gone, literally it becomes a 215 vote. And it's going to pass by one, maybe two votes. And when you get that close, where it's that calculated about who gets a pass and who doesn't, you'd better believe it makes a difference.

KING: More with former representative, Eric Massa.

He's still -- you're still a congressman today, right?

MASSA: No. I resigned as of 5:00 p.m. yesterday.


We'll be right back with more.

Don't go away.


KING: Former Congressman Eric Massa of New York is our guest.

The ethics investigation apparently stems from your behavior at a New Year's Eve wedding in which you -- you tousled somebody's hair. And then in an interview earlier today, you acknowledged that at your 50th birthday party, you groped a male staffer.

What is this all about?

MASSA: Well, when -- when four guys jump on you to wrestle you to prove that you're 50 years old, anything can be called anything, Larry. And what it's all about is innuendo. It's all about using language to destroy people. You know, I don't get to know who my accuser is. I don't get to know what the accusation is. I don't get to know any of that.

And, in fact, I never will, because there is no ethics investigation because I'm not a member of Congress anymore. I can't fight...

KING: All right...

MASSA: I can't fight that, represent my district and run for reelection and the health care bill -- and, oh, by the way, I may have cancer. I've got to prioritize my life.

But here's what it's about. I took responsibility for my life because, clearly, somebody -- somebody on my staff thought that I did not deserve to be in Congress. And the code of ethics that we put down that everybody on my staff signed, I have to follow. Here's the issue. Washington, D.C. is not used to someone standing up and holding themselves accountable. When the ship runs aground -- and I spent 24 years in the Navy -- it's not the navigator, it's the captain. And I was the captain of this office. And I messed up, period.

KING: Did you...

MASSA: And I own that.

KING: You were -- you admitted groping -- groping...

MASSA: No, I didn't...

KING: There's no other way to define groping but sexual.

MASSA: I didn't...

KING: Sexual -- groping is sexual.

MASSA: In fact, I never admitted groping. Somebody was sticking a microphone in my face walking on the street. In an interview, that was an hour long, I described in detail the only incident that I know of that could even come close to that -- even come close to it. You've got to remember, my staff, some of them with me for seven years. My closest staff guy, 69, 70 years old, my dearest friend, counselor to my children, a friend of my wife, lived in our house for a year. And all the young people lived in our house. We lived in cars, ate day old pizza.

These were relationships formed over the past two, three, four, five years. And it's not -- it's like a family. And so anybody can take anything out of context.

But if somebody...

KING: All right...

MASSA: -- somewhere said they're uncomfortable, I'm at fault. And I lived up to it...

KING: All right, now...

MASSA: -- and I left.

KING: Let's -- let's comment on what "The Washington Post" writes today. It says: "Former Representative Eric Massa, Democrat of New York, has been under investigation for allegations that he groped -- groped multiple male staffers working in his office, according to three sources familiar with the probe."

Is it true...


KING: -- that you groped male staffers? MASSA: No, it is not true. Period. I don't know how else to answer your question. And...

KING: All right...

MASSA: -- and this is...

KING: According to "The Post," the allegations date back at least a year. "The Post" says your former deputy chief of staff provided the information about the staffers' allegations to the House Ethics Committee three weeks ago.

MASSA: Well, I...

KING: Have you spoken to him?

MASSA: No, I have not. In fact, this is the first time I've heard anyone say that my former deputy chief of staff, a man who lived with my family -- lived with my family for years, in my home, counselor and disciplinarian to my children, one of my wife's best friends, never said a word to me at all, as has no one else.

KING: Why don't you then call him?

Why don't you call him?

MASSA: Because I was told that you can't call somebody while you're, quote, unquote, being investigated. So I haven't called them and I won't call them. There is no investigation...

KING: I know. But since is no inves...

MASSA: I'm not a member of Congress. I'm done.

KING: Aren't you curious enough to ask him...


KING: -- why this came about?

Now that you're not a congressman, why not call them?

MASSA: I'm -- I am more than curious. And someday, perhaps we'll talk. Maybe he'll call me. If he's listening, I hope he does, because I'd sure like to know what is behind this.

But in the meantime, he's...

KING: Then why not call him?

MASSA: Well, if I had his number, I would. I don't have his phone number anymore. That's (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: But he lived in your house. He was your (INAUDIBLE) -- you don't have his number? MASSA: No, I don't, because we all had cell phones and the cell phones have all been changed, so I don't have his number right now, Larry. I don't.

KING: All right, more with Congressman...

MASSA: But he's welcome to call me.

KING: All right. I've got it.

All right, let me get a break and we'll come back with lots more with our special guest, the former congressman, Democrat of New York, Eric Massa.

Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Congressman Eric -- former Congressman Eric Massa.

All right, on Fox News just a short time ago, you said, quote: "Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me."

So you did grope someone, right?

MASSA: So, Larry, when you grab someone and you're wrestling, I don't know how to describe that word. So if that's -- if that's the word that you want to have an entire debate about, then I can't stop you.

KING: No. I'm just asking the question -- you said you groped someone.

MASSA: Yes, I...

KING: A lot of people associate groping with sexual.

MASSA: Well, it wasn't sexual. Period.

KING: OK. Have you ever had...


KING: All right, simply put -- we can put this away.


KING: Have you ever had an inappropriate sexual contact with anybody on your staff, male or female?

MASSA: No. Absolutely not. And in fact, the very first time I heard this had anything to do with my -- with my former deputy chief of staff was just now. This is the first official anybody has said this to me. And don't you find it odd in Washington, DC, where an ethics investigation is supposed to be the most confidential and secret thing that could ever happen, that it gets periodically leaked to the press because I'm standing up and saying that people are railroading me because I've been arguing against this health care bill?

Isn't that kind of an odd thing that is happening?

KING: So...

MASSA: Ethics Committees...

KING: -- are you...

MASSA: -- ethics investigations take years.

KING: Yes.

MASSA: Mine took 18 days. I mean -- I'm sorry, 18 hours. So...

KING: Are you saying, Eric, that when I read to you the quote from "The Washington Post" about the former deputy chief of staff...

MASSA: Yes. That's the first time...

KING: -- that at this minute, tonight, is the first time you've heard that?

MASSA: That is the first time I have heard that. No one from the Ethics Committee...

KING: Does it shock you?

MASSA: It breaks my heart. I mean this is a man who was as close to me as my father. His portfolio was health care. His portfolio was health care. He -- he is one of the foremost experts in national health care policy in the world. And he -- we literally, after four years of campaigning together and -- and four years before that being close friends, he was...

KING: All right...

MASSA: -- one of the first guys I called and said, should I run for Congress?

This is the first time anyone has ever said to me, by title, who it is. And it does more than shock me. Shock me is not it. I mean this -- this is what happens when you trust people. And why did the Ethics

KING: So why not call...

MASSA: I will.

KING: I'm back to that again.

Why don't you just call him and get an answer?

MASSA: Larry -- Larry, now that I got this information, I will. I will call him, if I can find...


MASSA: -- or I asked him to call me.

KING: All right. Here are comments...

MASSA: He knows my number.

KING: Here are comments you made in a radio interview about White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.


KING: It's got lots of attention.

Let's listen then have you comment.


MASSA: They don't have any shower curtains down in the gym. And I'm sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, 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?

Rahm Emanuel is son of the devil's spawn. He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive.


KING: All right. You're both in -- in a -- in a gym, right?

No women are there.

You were nude, too, right?

MASSA: I was in the shower. That's generally how I am.

KING: No shower curtain. So he's walking around nude. The fact that he's nude is immaterial.

MASSA: Right.

KING: He's the chief of staff. He's angry at you because you're going to vote against his president's bill. That sounds like a tough chief of staff getting angry at one of the members of his own party who's going against him.

MASSA: So why...

KING: Why is it more than that?

MASSA: Why is the chief -- well, I don't know if it's more than that, except for the fact that it's very, as I said in the quote -- and, by the way, I owe Rahm an apology. I went over the top. I don't think he'd strap his children to the front of a locomotive. He'd strap my children to the front of a locomotive.

This -- this is a guy who has -- he has disliked me -- and it's been mutual -- since the first time we met. And -- and, Larry, the problems that we face and the incredible broken system that is Washington, D.C. are so much bigger than Rahm Emanuel and me. I mean we're bit players in what's going to happen to our country.

In -- in 72 hours, I'm gone and who cares?

And I understand that.

KING: But I mean the fact -- the fact that he didn't have clothes on and you were coming out of a shower is immaterial...

MASSA: No, it's just...

KING: -- isn't it?

Why is...

MASSA: Well, it's terribly awkward. I mean it -- it's terribly awkward.

KING: Yes...

MASSA: When was the last time you had a political argument with a naked man?

I mean it just doesn't work well.

KING: Never.

MASSA: Well, and that's my point.

KING: By the way, two White House officials denied to CNN...

MASSA: Of course they did.

KING: -- that this incident ever took place with Rahm Emanuel...

MASSA: Absolutely they will.

KING: They're saying it never happened.

MASSA: Of course they're going to -- they have to say that. That's the Washington two-step. I've got nothing to lose.

I mean how many times can they try to shoot a dead horse? I'm -- I'm...


MASSA: It's -- it's almost humorous. It -- it's as if someone is trying to say that I'm looking to run again, that I'm looking for redemption, that I'm looking to become something other than just go back and be the father to my kids and actually reunite with my wife, who I haven't seen functionally in five years.

I've got nothing to gain by this, other than raising an alert. And here's the alert. Like I said, it's not about Rahm Emanuel. He is a -- he is a tough as nails chief of staff. Trust me, I was a lot tougher when I was an executive officer on a destroyer. No one was tougher than me. I understand that.

But it's not about either one of us. It's about a system in Washington, D.C. that is so functionally paralyzed that every single American that looks to their Capitol for leadership has been disenfranchised and actually is at the point of despair.

And I'm telling you again -- and let me make it very, very clear -- one last statement. If we pass this health care bill using reconciliation, it will so divide this nation that I don't know how you put it back together. I don't...

KING: But it didn't divide it when they -- when they did it over Bush's tax cuts.

MASSA: OK. So here's the argument that the -- that the Democrats throw right back. Just because we screamed it was wrong when they did it, doesn't mean it's right to do it now. And nothing is more personal to the American people than their health care. Nothing.


MASSA: I mean haven't we figured that out so far, after a year of debate?

KING: Let me get a break and we'll have some more moments with Eric Massa.


KING: By the way, LARRY KING LIVE reached out to the White House today, invited Rahm Emanuel or anyone from the White House to appear as a guest to respond to the former congressman's allegations. They declined, but referred us to the on the record statements from Robert Gibbs today.

And for the record, we'd like to extend an invitation to Rahm Emanuel -- I've known Rahm a long time -- to be our guest any time for another side of this story.

Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: And we're back with Congressman Eric -- former Congressman Eric Massa.

It may be silly, but I guess we have to ask it, are your -- are you gay? MASSA: Well, here's that answer, I'm not going to answer that.

In -- in year 2010?

Why don't you ask my wife, ask my friends, ask the 10,000 sailors I served with in the Navy.

KING: Now, all right...

MASSA: I'm not going to answer that. That's -- that is such...

KING: All right, you don't have to. I said...

MASSA: Well, but it's an insulting...


MASSA: Larry -- Larry...

KING: I didn't mean it to insult you.

MASSA: No, no, not me. It insults every gay American, because somewhere it...

KING: No, it doesn't.

MASSA: Yes, it does. It somehow classifies people.

Why would anybody even ask that question in this day and age?

KING: Because you said you groped someone...

MASSA: And -- and here you go back to that. And I...

KING: -- who was a male.

MASSA: And, Larry -- and I explained what that was three times.


MASSA: Come on now.

And, by the way, you also said...

KING: Who was the guy you groped?

MASSA: You also said you understood...

KING: (INAUDIBLE). MASSA: -- that explanation. You did.

KING: I do. I understand it.


KING: But we're just asking to set the record straight.

MASSA: Well...

KING: I'm not offending -- at least I'm not trying to offend -- I certainly would not offend the gay community -- or meaning to.

MASSA: Well...

KING: Elizabeth City, North Carolina, we've got a call.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Representative Massa, just a quick question for you. I saw you in an interview earlier today. And you said that you were leaving because of your own behaviors...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- which you took total responsibility for.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't mention anything about disagreeing with health care...

MASSA: Well...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- about Democratic leadership or anything like that at the time, even though you were being pressed for it.

So my question is why is it that, four-and-a-half hours later, because the -- the interview took place at 5:00 -- are you now saying that your problems with the health care initiative and problems with Democratic leadership are your main reasons for leaving Congress, when earlier today, you would not mention that as a problem?

MASSA: Well, I did and let me...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was your own behaviors.

MASSA: Thank you for your call and I appreciate that. And let me make something very clear. The number one reason that I'm not staying on Congress is that this Wednesday, they're going to read a C.T. scan and tell me if I'm going to be around in six months or not. And then next year, they're going to do it again. That's my number one reason.

Compound that with the fact that I do own my own behavior. Compound that with the fact that, as Larry has pointed out, I've got problems with the leadership of the Democratic Party. And I can't stand this health care bill and I've been very, very outspoken about it. And layer upon layer and pretty soon, I don't have the life's energy to fight everyone all the time.

Ma'am, your point is a very good point, because you can't tell the whole story about why I'm doing what I'm doing in a sound bite. And I appreciate your call. And I hope that clarifies it.

KING: Well asked, well answered.

One other thing, are you going to stay a Democrat?

MASSA: I have been a proud Democrat ever since I -- I got involved in politics. I revere Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. That's one of the reasons I'm standing up, because there are millions of Democrats like myself who don't understand why we are becoming that which we campaigned against.

Remember how everybody hated Karl Rove?

And now, I mean half this interview, Larry, you focused on Rahm Emanuel.

I mean why is it that we have become exactly what we campaigned against?

If it was wrong to pass a bill with reconciliation when the Republicans did it, what makes it right for us to do it?

KING: All right...

MASSA: That's my point.

KING: Thank you.

Eric, I have the feeling we have not heard the last of you.

MASSA: No, Larry, let me be clear about this, I'm going away. I'm not doing any more press. I'm not running for public office. I am a newly unemployed, slightly battered, somewhat used member of Congress.

Do you know anybody that can hire somebody who stands up to authority when authority is messing up, give me a call.

KING: Good luck on the health front.

MASSA: It's -- that's the main issue for me.

KING: Thank you, Eric.

MASSA: God bless you, Larry. Take care.

KING: Former Congressman Eric Massa, Democrat of New York.


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