Metro

Governor, Senate leader differ over potential for success of probe into alleged sexual assaults

Governor Baker has concerns about whether alleged sex-assault victims of the ex-Senate president’s husband will feel protected if they agree to testify.
Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press
Governor Baker has concerns about whether alleged sex-assault victims of the ex-Senate president’s husband will feel protected if they agree to testify.

Governor Charlie Baker has “concerns” about the state Senate’s ethics investigation into the conduct of former Senate president Stanley C. Rosenberg, he said Monday.

Baker said he is worried by reports that people who wish to tell their story are skittish about doing so because they fear their identities will be revealed.

“I said when I originally heard about these allegations that it was critical that the Senate create a process that would make it possible for people to come forward without fear of retribution,” Baker told the Globe. “And I was concerned by the story I read over the weekend that basically said that many people who would otherwise wish to be interviewed don’t want to come forward because they don’t believe that the investigation is going to protect their anonymity.”

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In November, the Globe reported on detailed accusations from four men who alleged that Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, had sexually assaulted or harassed them and who said Hefner bragged he could influence Senate business.

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In December, the Senate launched an ethics investigation into the conduct of Rosenberg — who temporarily stepped down as Senate president — and whether he broke the chamber’s rules. The committee hired an outside law firm to investigate.

But the probe has raised concerns.

Last week, WGBH reported that the independent investigators must reveal to the six senators on the panel — who include strong allies of Rosenberg — the identities of witnesses they may want subpoenaed.

And on Sunday the Globe reported that only one of the four men who made the assault allegations against Hefner has spoken to the investigators working on behalf of the Senate. Two are staying away, and a fourth man who said Hefner assaulted him said he prefers to deal with the attorney general.

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“I do have concerns about it,” Baker said of the Senate probe. “And I think it’s important — I think it’s imperative — for the Senate to make it possible, by structuring this in whatever way they need to, for people who were part of what clearly was represented as a string of incidents involving Bryon Hefner, that makes it possible for them to come speak to the firm doing the investigation.”

Clearly, the Republican governor said, they don’t feel comfortable doing so now.

The top Senate leader said she’s confident in the process.

“I don’t have any problem with the integrity of the investigation,” said acting President Harriette L. Chandler, after a regularly scheduled weekly meeting with Baker and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo Monday afternoon. “I think that the ethics committee is doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, which is to turn this over to the [outside law firm], and that’s exactly what’s going on.”

Chandler said the committee has not issued any subpoenas, so alleged victims should not fear that senators might learn their identities.

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“As long as they come forward voluntarily, they will have full confidentiality,” she told reporters. “That’s what this whole program is about: to make sure that they have total and complete confidentiality.”

Mara Dolan, a spokeswoman for Rosenberg, said the senator does not comment on the ongoing investigation “on advice of counsel.”

E-mailed requests for comment to the chairman of the Senate committee, Democratic Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, and his staff were not immediately responded to.

The committee’s vice chairman, Senator William N. Brownsberger, Democrat of Belmont, declined to comment. So, too, did Senator Bruce E. Tarr of Gloucester, a member of the committee and the chamber’s Republican leader.

Also on the committee:

Republican Senator Richard J. Ross of Wrentham, and Democratic Senators Cynthia S. Creem of Newton and Cindy F. Friedman of Arlington.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.