Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, expressing shock and dismay, called Thursday for a swift investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by the husband of Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg.
Baker, a Republican who has had a close working relationship with Rosenberg, a liberal Democrat from Amherst, said he found a Globe report about the alleged misconduct “distressing’’ and “disturbing.’’
“Frankly, I am appalled by the allegations,’’ he said in a brief meeting with reporters outside his office. “The Senate needs to start an investigation, and it needs to start pronto.”
Baker, when asked, would not express confidence in Rosenberg. He responded only by noting that he had known Rosenberg for 25 years and had worked with him since becoming governor in 2015, while reiterating his strong belief that the allegations need to be investigated by the Senate.
On Thursday night, Rosenberg said he supported the call for an independent investigation.
“I am recusing myself from any matters relating to this investigation and these allegations, and authorizing Majority Leader Harriette Chandler to serve as the majority party lead for this investigation, in consultation with Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Senate Counsel,” he said in a statement. “I leave it to them to structure an appropriate process to conduct this investigation as soon as possible.”
Baker suggested the Senate Ethics Committee could conduct the investigation or a third party could be hired by the Senate to look into the conduct of Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner. He said it would be up to the Senate to decide whether Rosenberg should step aside during any probe.
Baker also expressed sympathy for the victims who, without being identified by name, had revealed to the Globe their experiences of being groped and assaulted by Hefner. And he said those individuals must be assured they will not meet any retribution for cooperating with an investigation.
“They need to be crystal clear with the people involved in this, so they can speak about their concerns and raise the issues raised in that story without worrying about consequences,’’ he said. “It was very clear reading that story that some of those folks were worried about the consequences going forward.”
Healey, a Democrat, also called for an investigation but did not specify which authority should conduct it.
“These allegations are deeply disturbing,” she said in a statement. “We need a full investigation, and we need to send a clear message that harassment and assault of any kind will not be tolerated on Beacon Hill.”
The allegations detailed in the Globe report were made by three men who say Hefner touched their genitals (two said he did so more than once) and one who said Hefner kissed him against his will. Though three of the alleged incidents took place when Rosenberg was just feet away, the Globe found no evidence that the Senate president knew about the assaults.
Several of the alleged incidents took place after Rosenberg promised fellow senators in 2014 that he would enforce a “firewall” between his public and private lives to prevent Hefner from taking part in Senate business. Rosenberg made that vow after Hefner was accused of sending insulting tweets about outgoing Senate President Therese Murray.
Hefner and Rosenberg have both said they were surprised by the allegations of misconduct and had not been told of them before the Globe report. Several of the victims — who include a lobbyist and an advocate for nonprofits — said they were afraid that coming forward publicly would destroy their careers and the causes they fight for.
At the State House, where controversy often sends lawmakers scurrying, multiple senators avoided answering questions about the allegations, either by not returning calls or dodging reporters in the hallway.
Chandler, who is leading an ad-hoc group of six female senators exploring ways to combat sexual misconduct in the Senate, ignored reporters’ entreaties to stop and answer questions as she walked briskly by them in a Senate corridor.
She was accompanied by Rosenberg’s communications director, and the two darted into Rosenberg’s office and closed the door.
Several hours later, Tarr, the Senate Republican leader, issued a statement saying he and Chandler, a Worcester Democrat, would work together “to develop a structure and process to investigate all of the relevant facts and information related to these serious allegations and take appropriate action.”
“These claims are very serious and disturbing, as are all allegations of sexual abuse, and they deserve to be carefully examined and addressed,” Tarr’s statement said. “Without a doubt, there must be a full and fair process by which the facts should be evaluated, and any wrongdoing in this case should be dealt with swiftly and properly addressed. No one should manipulate, harm, or abuse anyone else and when they do, there must be appropriate consequences.”
Senator William N. Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, was one of the only other senators to speak out about the alleged misconduct.
“The allegations are very detailed and very troubling,” he said in a telephone interview.
Asked if he had confidence in Rosenberg, Brownsberger said, “I think Stan has been a great Senate president and this is very unfortunate and how it relates to the Senate is something we all need to process.”
Asked if Rosenberg should resign, he said, “I’m certainly not at that point myself.”
Brownsberger said he has seen Hefner only a few times at events and hasn’t considered him a factor at all in the workings of the Senate.
“I thought the firewall was pretty well in place,” he said, referencing Rosenberg’s pledge to prevent Hefner from interfering in Senate business.
Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., a statewide advocacy group that combats sexual assault, said Hefner’s actions, if proved, would be crimes and therefore must scrutinized by the proper authorities.
“These allegations are deeply troubling and they do need to be investigated,” she said.
She said Hefner’s alleged misconduct fits a pattern often seen in sexual assault and harassment cases, where the perpetrator uses power, whether real or perceived because of a personal connection, to exert power over somebody else. “And it can’t be tolerated,” Troop said.
Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, noted that several of the victims alleged that Hefner not only assaulted them but seemed to be closely involved in the business of the Senate, as well.
“These reports indicate that many professional boundaries may have been crossed, such as the Senate president’s husband’s involvement in the Senate president’s work and his insinuations that he could deliver much needed community resources for those who curried favor with him,” Scaramella said. “While neither action on its own involved sexual harassment, when significant boundary violations occur, it is no surprise to learn that sexual harassment may have been employed as a tool for exploitation as well.”
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