Report: Rosenberg failed to protect Senate from his spouse
Committee finds no rules violations, recommends barring former Senate president from leadership positions
THE SENATE ETHICS COMMITTEE concluded on Wednesday that Sen. Stanley Rosenberg did not violate any of the chamber’s rules but nevertheless demonstrated a “significant failure of judgment and leadership” when he failed “to protect the Senate from his husband, whom he knew was disruptive, volatile, and abusive.”
The committee recommended that Rosenberg be barred from any leadership position through the end of 2020, assuming he is reelected this fall. Rosenberg, who stepped down as Senate president on December 4, currently holds no leadership position. The full Senate will now have to decide whether the committee’s recommendation is the appropriate response; the members discussed the Ethics Committee report for more than five hours on Wednesday without reaching any decision.
Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and a number of senators said they thought Rosenberg should resign. Asked after the ethics committee’s private deliberations whether the recommended sanctions should have gone further and whether Rosenberg is fit to remain in the Senate, Sen. Michael Rodrigues, the chairman of the Ethics Committee, said: “We think that whether Sen. Rosenberg serves as a senator for his district should be up to the voters of his district.”
Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Republican minority leader and a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, said the full Senate will decide the proper punishment for Rosenberg. “There was clearly a failure of judgment, and there was clearly a failure of leadership, and those failures had consequences that harmed the Senate,” Tarr said.
Rosenberg’s chief failing, according to the report, was his inability to rein in his spouse, Bryon Hefner. While the report concluded that Rosenberg was not responsible for what his spouse did and that Hefner never influenced his actions as a senator, the investigation revealed that Rosenberg was well aware of Hefner’s issues and should have taken stronger steps to keep him away from Senate employees and operations.
The report identified instances where Hefner sexually, racially, and verbally harassed Senate employees. Rosenberg was aware of many of Hefner’s actions and the report concluded he “knew or should have known that Hefner had racially and sexually harassed Senate employees and failed to address the issue adequately.”
The committee report based its conclusion in large part on Rosenberg’s own testimony. He acknowledged that Hefner regularly texted pictures of naked men to him and on one occasion showed such a picture to another member of the Senate. Rosenberg told Senate investigators that Hefner “routinely sexualized Senate staff and other senators” and admitted he was concerned that Hefner would make sexually offensive comments to others. He also was aware that on several occasions Hefner sent emails or texts in which he pretended to be Rosenberg.
Indeed, the report suggested Rosenberg enabled Hefner in some instances by providing him “unfettered access” to his Senate email account.
While Rosenberg is facing disciplinary action in the Senate, Hefner has pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery, open and gross lewdness, and dissemination of an illicit nude photograph. The criminal charges against Hefner and the disciplinary action against Rosenberg were prompted by a series of articles in the Boston Globe anonymously quoting Hefner’s alleged victims.
The Senate report was based on 45 interviews with witnesses whose names were kept confidential, even from the Senate members of the Ethics Committee. Three investigators from the law firm of Hogan Lovells also interviewed Rosenberg for 11 hours over the course of two days and retrieved information from his iPhone.
Despite his knowledge of Hefner’s inappropriate behavior, Rosenberg granted his spouse access to his electronic calendar, which came with password access to his official Senate email account even though Senate policy forbids the sharing of email passwords. The password access was only revoked after Rosenberg learned that Hefner had sent an email on January 18, 2017, from his account to “another elected official” without his permission.
According to the report, Rosenberg claimed he was not fully aware of or subject to the Senate’s anti-harassment policy or the chamber’s IT policy on sharing email account passwords. It was an odd claim to make since Rosenberg signed off on both policies and at one point stated publicly that the Senate had a zero tolerance policy for any type of harassment.
In early 2016, according to the report, Hefner called one of Rosenberg’s staffers, berating the person and making what were described as “inappropriate racist comments.” The staffer reported the incident to Rosenberg, who acknowledged that Hefner had engaged in conduct that constituted harassment. Rosenberg urged the staffer to report the incident to the Senate counsel’s office.
“The staff member did not officially report the incident to Senate counsel because the staff member was satisfied that Senator Rosenberg took the matter seriously and because the staff member felt some empathy for Hefner since the staff member believed he was mentally ill,” the report said. “The staff member also believed that Senator Rosenberg sufficiently addressed the issue with Hefner because the staff member received no further phone calls from Hefner after that incident.”Rosenberg insisted to the Senate investigators that he maintained a firewall between Hefner and Senate business. Rosenberg said the firewall he promised his colleagues in 2014 didn’t mean that Hefner would have no contact with the Senate but only that he would not have any undue influence on Senate business. By contrast, the Senate Ethics Committee said most people interpreted Rosenberg’s firewall statement to mean that Hefner would not have access to information concerning Senate business.
“We found the firewall was nonexistent to the extent it was intended and understood to limit access to information between Senator Rosenberg’s office and Bryon Hefner,” Tony Fuller, an attorney with Hogan Lovells, the Boston law firm hired to investigate the matter, said at the briefing convened by Senate Ethics Committee members late Wednesday afternoon.