Yvonne Abraham

Rosenberg report portrays dysfunction and Bryon Hefner’s volatility

Rosenberg cited for ‘failure of judgment and leadership’ in blistering ethics report
Rosenberg is subject of blistering ethics report

He could not control him. He would not control him.

The picture of the relationship between Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg and his husband, Bryon Hefner, that emerges from Wednesday's Senate Ethics Committee report is a portrait of dysfunction.

According to the report, Rosenberg was convinced he could not contain the chaos Hefner brought to Beacon Hill, believed him to be mentally ill, witnessed him sexualizing and berating others. Yet the former Senate president gave his husband immense access and influence — even as others counseled him that doing so was dangerous — making a mockery of the so-called firewall Rosenberg had vowed to erect between his personal and professional lives.


The report finds that Rosenberg's lapses had "destructive" consequences for the Senate. They also had disastrous consequences for the men Hefner allegedly sexually assaulted — the Senate report now brings the total to eight — who said Hefner implicitly or explicitly held over them the power Rosenberg had given him.

Hefner was indicted on March 30 on multiple charges of sexual assault, criminal lewdness, and distributing nude photographs without consent, following allegations by several men, first reported by the Globe, that he assaulted and harassed them during the past few years. The Senate began an investigation in the wake of those allegations to determine whether Rosenberg had violated Senate rules.

In February, the Globe revealed that Hefner was allowed access to Rosenberg's official e-mails, that he had lobbied for (and then against) a budget item, and that he was deeply immersed in the internal politics of the Senate. Though Rosenberg said at the time the report contained "a number of factual inaccuracies," he declined to specify any, and the Senate investigation found that the so-called firewall had been breached in the ways the Globe had described. Additionally, the report cited other intrusions by Hefner into the workings of Rosenberg's office, and the Senate.


The report concluded that there was "ample evidence of Senator Rosenberg's failures of judgment and leadership [which] had destructive consequences for the institution and the people he led."

Hefner, 30, and Rosenberg, 68, met when Hefner had a summer job in Rosenberg's office and became a couple in 2008. They bonded over the fact that each had had a difficult childhood spent in foster care, and they were married in September 2016. In a 2014 interview with the Globe, Rosenberg credited Hefner with his own decision to live as an openly gay man.

"It was the greatest gift anyone has given to me," Rosenberg said.

The couple separated after the assault allegations became public, according to Rosenberg's staff.

The report portrays a Senate president who appears to have been both worried about the damage his erratic partner could do and willfully blind to it at critical moments.

Time and again, Rosenberg was warned that Hefner could not be trusted with the access the senator was giving him: the password to his calendar and to his official e-mail, which included confidential and privileged communications; the use of Rosenberg's mobile devices; inside information on the affairs of the Senate; entree into professional and social situations where Hefner could act out or throw his weight around.

According to the report, staffers told Rosenberg they were worried Hefner had full access to his official e-mail account: Two of them were even instructed to check it for signs that Hefner was misusing it. Last year, after they discovered Hefner had twice posed as Rosenberg, once to send an e-mail to an elected official, Rosenberg finally agreed to revoke Hefner's password access.


In 2014, as Rosenberg and Hefner left a Christmas party, an elected official, upset that Hefner had shown the host sexually explicit pictures on his cellphone, whispered in Rosenberg's ear that he should "get rid of" Hefner.

A staffer who drove Rosenberg to events refused to chauffeur his husband again after an April 2017 incident in which a drunk Hefner berated him for choosing a bad route to the Fenway. Rosenberg and another staffer tried to intervene, the report said, but they could not stop Hefner's torrent of abuse. The driver finally pulled over and left the vehicle, but Hefner continued to rail.

"At one point Hefner tried to convince a Cambridge police officer to arrest Senator Rosenberg, but the staff member intervened and the officer left the scene," the report said.

Rosenberg knew that Hefner had made racially charged comments to one of the senator's aides but indicated that he could not stop Hefner from behaving that way. Instead, the Senate president urged the aide to report the abuse to the Senate counsel: "Until the paradigm shifts and there are consequences nothing will change," he told the aide, according to the report.

At times, Rosenberg behaved as if he, too, was a powerless staffer. When Hefner used Rosenberg's cellphone to send an abusive tirade calling the senator's aides "failures for your lack of foresight," Rosenberg apologized, told them he did not send the message, and said, "None of us deserve these insulting comments."


But he was not powerless. Rather, the report found, Rosenberg repeatedly failed to exercise the authority he had to keep Hefner from doing more damage.

Rosenberg has said he knew nothing of the sexual assaults and other crimes of which Hefner now stands accused. And neither the Globe nor the Senate report found evidence to the contrary.

But he did know his husband repeatedly sexualized staffers and elected officials, according to the report. Five times, Hefner sent Rosenberg texts in which he sexualized a member of the Senate president's staff. He also made graphic sexual comments about other senators. One text message to Rosenberg read: "I want to roofie [a senator] and make a sex tape," using the slang term for Rohypnol, a date rape drug. The report makes no mention of Rosenberg's reaction to that message.

Rosenberg, who sat for 11 hours of questioning, told Senate investigators that "Hefner was uncontrollable and that telling him to stop behaving inappropriately by text message would only exacerbate the problem and prompt more inappropriate texts."

But the report also says the senator appeared to condone Hefner's sexual references to staff members, and that in one case Rosenberg initiated a sexualized text exchange with Hefner about the spouse of an elected official.


And while Rosenberg appears to have conceded to investigators that his partner was volatile, uncontrollable, and abusive, he maintained that he had not erred by allowing Hefner access to his e-mails and to Senate affairs in general.

"Senator Rosenberg stated that he never considered that Hefner having access to his calendar and email might have bolstered Hefner's claims to others that he had inside information and influence based on his relationship with Senator Rosenberg," the report said.

Rosenberg told investigators that Hefner wasn't interested in the policy matters that filled his inbox, so "there was nothing problematic for him to see in the emails," the report said.

But the e-mails contained information from constituents and interest groups, privileged information from the Senate counsel, and confidential e-mails on pending legislation and grants. Rosenberg knew Hefner had sent text messages posing as the senator, and that he could do the same from his e-mail account.

"The facts are clear that Hefner had continuous access to information concerning Senate business and that he repeatedly abused that access," the report concluded.

In his interviews, Rosenberg was similarly resistant to the notion that he had violated his promise to erect a firewall between his personal and professional lives. He had made that vow in 2014 as he ascended to the presidency, in response to reports that Hefner had been meddling in Senate affairs and involving himself in upcoming committee assignments.

That firewall, the report concluded, was nonexistent. Not only did Hefner have unfettered access to Rosenberg's Senate communications and his mobile devices, but he also discussed Senate affairs with his husband and tried to influence him on them.

Rosenberg insisted to investigators that this was not a problem, because Hefner did not actually influence his decisions, or not any more heavily than others did.

"In Senator Rosenberg's view, Hefner was also free to try to influence him, but Hefner's opinion was weighted the same as any other influencer and Senator Rosenberg made the decision himself," the report found.

Rosenberg's definition of the firewall defied common sense and was so narrow as to make it meaningless, the report found.

He told investigators: "It's all about the outcome, what actually happened, did a decision get affected."

Further separating Hefner from his work would have been impossible, Rosenberg insisted, "unless he either quit his job in the Senate or divorced/left Hefner, neither of which he was willing to do."

That was a false dilemma, investigators concluded. Rosenberg could have, and should have, done more to protect the institution of the Senate, and those who worked there, from Hefner.

Instead of holding Hefner's chaos at bay, Rosenberg — ultimately blind to the immense damage his husband could do — allowed it to enter one of the most powerful offices in the Commonwealth.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.