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Massa admits to groping staffer, denies it was sexual

WASHINGTON - Eric Massa, who resigned from Congress last week amid sexual harassment allegations, acknowledged Tuesday groping a staffer but denied it was sexual.

"It doesn't make any difference what my intentions were, it's how it's perceived by the individual who receives that action," the New York Democrat 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 Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported Tuesday that the House ethics panel is investigating allegations Massa groped multiple male staffers in his office. He previously claimed his misconduct was limited to using inappropriate language.

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," he 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.' "

He said his actions may have been misinterpreted. "If somebody on my staff was offended, uncomfortable, thought I was inappropriate, I own that," he said. "It's why I resigned."

Massa, 50, has given different reasons for quitting his seat before completing his first term, including health worries.

On Sunday, he accused the White House and Democratic congressional leaders of trying to oust him from office to improve their chances of passing health care reform legislation, a charge the House majority leader, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called "absurd."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, on ABC's "Good Morning America" Tuesday, dismissed Massa's charges of a conspiracy to force him out as "silly and ridiculous."

Later Tuesday, Massa said, "I wasn't forced out. I forced myself out." He added that he did not live up to his own personal code of conduct.

In other developments:

Labor union members, religious leaders and other activists protested in the nation's capital against what they call an abusive health insurance industry. Organizers with Health Care for America Now say thousands came in from across the country for the march.

Major business groups announced a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to stop Obama's health care overhaul. The ad buy, costing between $4 million and $10 million, starts today on national cable outlets.

- AP

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