WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee today approved a preliminary investigation of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who admitted hiring a male prostitute for sex and then employing the man as a personal aide.
Committee Chairman Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), who announced the investigation, would not say whether the vote was unanimous.
Dixon also announced that the panel approved the request of one of its members, Rep. Chester G. Atkins (D-Mass.), to withdraw from consideration of the Frank case.
Atkins said Monday that he feared a potential conflict because he and Frank could be opponents in the 1992 election because of congressional redistricting. Dixon said another member would be named to serve in the investigation.
Frank, a leading congressional liberal and acknowledged homosexual, sought the investigation of his conduct with the male prostitute, Stephen J. Gobie.
The committee resolution said the panel is "aware of assertions relating to the conduct of Rep. Barney Frank in connection with his employment of a personal assistant." The panel "has determined that the matters merit further inquiry," the resolution added.
Today's action begins only the first round of the House's disciplinary process and determines whether a more complete investigation is needed. During the preliminary phase, the panel can issue subpoenas and take testimony.
If the probe goes beyond the initial stage, the committee could hold a disciplinary proceeding and recommend punishment to the full House that could range from a reprimand to expulsion.
Dixon said that despite Frank's request for an investigation, the committee vote "was not based on his request but on our own motion."'
Frank said he used personal funds to pay Gobie as a housekeeper and driver from July, 1985, through August, 1987. Gobie said he used Frank's Capitol Hill apartment to run a prostitution ring with the lawmaker's knowledge, but Frank repeatedly denied knowing about the operation.
Gobie, whose involvement with Frank was first reported by the Washington Times last month, has publicly expressed willingness to testify before the Ethics Committee if his lawyer approves.
Frank has admitted paying Gobie $80 for sex after answering a classified ad in a Washington gay newspaper in the spring of 1985. The lawmaker said he then hired Gobie, hoping to change his ways, but fired him after he learned of the prostitution ring.