Massachusetts lawmakers promised Tuesday to shield the identities of any witnesses who come forward during an investigation to determine if former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, whose husband has been accused by several men of sexual misconduct, violated any Senate rules.
The six-member Senate Ethics Committee voted to formally open its inquiry, one day after the Democrat agreed to relinquish his top leadership post for the duration of the probe.
The Senate was rocked by allegations reported last week by The Boston Globe from several unnamed men who said Rosenberg's husband, Bryon Hefner, sexually assaulted or harassed them. Some of the men had professional business with the Legislature and told the newspaper they feared coming forward partly because they did want to alienate the powerful Senate leader.
"Any and all witnesses to the alleged misconduct must be assured that they can cooperate comfortably and confidentially, without fear of repercussion or retaliation from anyone, now or in the future," said Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat who chairs the ethics committee.
Rosenberg has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has denied any prior knowledge of the allegations against his husband. He also has maintained that Hefner exerted no influence on his actions or decisions as Senate president.
Members of the ethics panel reiterated Tuesday they planned to appoint an independent investigator to conduct the probe, which will focus not on Hefner -a private citizen - but on whether Rosenberg or any staff violated Senate rules.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said Monday they were prepared to open a separate, criminal investigation of Hefner, if any alleged victims come forward.
Once the work of the investigator is complete, the ethics committee will review the findings and recommend to the full Senate what, if any, "appropriate action" should be taken, Rodrigues said.
Senate Republican leader Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester, said he would push for release of the investigator's final report.
"It is my intent to ensure that the report, with adequate safeguards for the confidentiality of those who provide testimony and information, be made public so we can be transparent in the way we conduct our operations," said Tarr, who also serves on the ethics panel.
Rodrigues did not address whether the report would be made public during the portion of Tuesday's meeting that was open to reporters.
Sen. Harriette Chandler, who had been Senate majority leader, was named by her colleagues Monday to serve as acting Senate president.
The Worcester Democrat said she would not remain in the role beyond the conclusion of the investigation, meaning the Senate would at that point have to decide whether to restore Rosenberg to the post or elect a new leader.