Rosenberg Probe Begins, Senator Expects Out-of-State Independent Investigator

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By Matt Murphy

BOSTON — The Senate Ethics Committee opened its investigation into former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg Tuesday, promising complete confidentiality to anyone with information about sexual misconduct by Rosenberg’s husband Bryon Hefner and taking steps toward hiring an independent investigator that one senator says will come from out of state.

The six-member committee, including four Democrats and two Republicans, was empowered by the full Senate on Monday night to begin the investigation into Sen. Rosenberg, who stepped down as Senate president for the duration of the investigation with the hopes of returning to his post when it’s complete.

The Boston Globe last week published allegations by three anonymous men that Hefner had grabbed their genitals in social settings related to their work on Beacon Hill, and a fourth accused Hefner of kissing him against his will. The men also said that Hefner boasted about his influence over Senate policy decision-making, which will be a focus of the ethics probe. Rosenberg denied that Hefner has any influence on Senate business and said that if he suggested he did, he should not have done that.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat and the chair of the Ethics Committee, said the first order of business for the Ethics Committee will be to hire the outside investigator who will be “carefully screened and scrutinized by the Ethics Committee to ensure a comprehensive and impartial investigation.”

One senator who sat through an hours-long caucus Monday where the investigation process was debated said she expects an investigator without local ties.

“It is expected that it will not be somebody from Massachusetts or somebody who may have had dealings with the Senate or know the players involved,” Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who does not sit on the Ethics Committee, told WCAP radio Tuesday morning.

THe Ethics Committee, at the conclusion of its first meeting, issued a statement indicating it planned to hire the investigator within two weeks.

While Rodrigues would not initially commit to making the ultimate findings of the investigation public, the committee also said Thursday afternoon it had agreed to the public release of any reports produced by the investigator or the committee, with safeguards for those who require confidentiality.

Gov. Charlie Baker said he’d like to see an investigator named “this week, to tell you the truth.” “I think it’s really important that this gets started,” Baker said Tuesday afternoon. He said, “It’s going to be really important for (Acting Senate President Harriette) Chandler and for all of the members of the Ethics Committee to demonstrate by both who they choose and what the rules are that whoever it is that’s conducting this investigation has the latitude and the independence to provide comfort to those people who are going to come forward who were victimized – that they won’t suffer repercussions for doing so.”

In addition to Rodrigues and Tarr, the committee membership includes Democratic Sens. Cynthia Creem, William Brownsberger and Cindy Friedman and Republican Sen. Richard Ross.

“I am deeply disturbed by these allegations which jeopardize the integrity of the Senate. Sexual harassment and assault have no place in the Massachusetts state Senate or any workplace. I am committed to a fair and thorough review of the facts as well as a process that ensures confidentiality for any person who has any information to report on sexual harassment or sexual assaults,” Rodrigues said.

Tarr said any victims with information about inappropriate behavior by Hefner should feel comfortable speaking to the independent investigator or law enforcement, and said retaliation against anyone who comes forward “will not be tolerated by the Massachusetts state Senate.”

Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said Monday that they were prepared to open a criminal investigation if anyone came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Hefner. Criminal allegations are beyond the scope of the Senate review, which must be confined to the actions of senators or staff.

Rodrigues said that he would update the public on any “relevant and important actions” taken by the committee, but would not issue any comments once the outside investigator is retained.

“Our role as committee members is not to conduct the investigation, but rather set in pace the mechanisms for discovering the truth and allowing this investigator to proceed without delay or any impediments by this committee,” he said.

The investigator, according to the order adopted by the Senate, is to have “full access” to Rosenberg’s office and his staff, and the Ethics Committee was authorized to compel witness testimony and the production of “books and papers and such other records” by summons. Once the investigator completes his or her work, it will up to the Ethics Committee to review the findings and make a recommendation to the full Senate. The options for the committee would be to take no action at all, to reprimand Rosenberg, or to recommend expulsion.

While noting there were no allegations against the Senate president in the Globe report, Donoghue said senators were obligated to “make certain that he had no wrongdoing” and that he did not partake in any misconduct or “fostering misconduct.”

“The mere fact that his husband had access to these victims because of Senate connection or business was a major major issue and one that sent shockwaves, quite honestly, through the Senate. It’s unpreceented. To my knowledge nothing like this has happened before,” said the Lowell Democrat, who was in the mix to become president if Rosenberg resigned.

Donoghue said senators “were very relieved” when Healey and Conley announced Monday that they were open to conducting a criminal investigation into the allegations regarding Hefner.

“We don’t typically hold people accountable for the wrongdoings of a family member. What makes this different is what if anything did the president know or did he engage in any misconduct? Two, did that misconduct of this individual with the president’s either knowledge of tacit approval interfere or impact Senate business? So that’s the connection here in terms of what we, under our rules, are investigating. I think many would say ‘Well, it’s easy to say, well it wasn’t him. Nothing to see hear. Move on.’ But the content of the allegations was significant enough and the fact pattern surrounding it, that the reason this individual assaulted, or his connection to these people, had to do with State House business. That’s deeply concerning,” she said.

Brownsberger, during the short public portion of the Ethics Committee meeting Tuesday, also reiterated the importance of confidentiality of witnesses, and said any conflict between confidentiality and transparency would be resolved in favor of the former.

Many questions were still lingering Tuesday about what the Senate’s decision to name Sen. Chandler acting president would mean for Rosenberg moving forward. With no timetable for the completion of the ethics investigation, Rosenberg’s staff showed up to work Tuesday uncertain whether they still worked for him or the new president, whether they would be forced to give up their offices, or if they would be replaced entirely.

Chandler on Monday night said she didn’t know if Rosenberg would be given committee assignments as other rank-and-file members receive, but Rosenberg on Tuesday did reliquish the stipend that comes with being president. His annual salary will be reduced from $142,547 to $62,547 plus the $20,000 stipend for office expenses that all senators living more than 50 miles from the State House receive, according to the Treasurer’s office.

Chandler, as of Tuesday afternoon, had not yet notified the treasurer’s office whether she would accept the $80,000 stipend that comes with being president, but a spokesman said he does not intend to take the pay bump that comes with the office of the president. Chandler currently receives a $60,000 stipend for being majority leader and $15,000 for chairing the Senate Committee on Redistricting, but it has not been decided whether she will retain her chairmanship. She has until Friday to decide which stipends she will continue accepting, a spokeswoman for Treasury said.

A spokesman for Chandler also said that decisions about how to handle staff and office space was still being worked out.