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Senate President Rosenberg Steps Aside Amid Probe

BOSTON (AP/CBS) — Hours after Senate President Stanley Rosenberg stepped aside from his leadership role, Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced they're prepared to open a joint investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Rosenberg's husband, Bryon Hefner.

Healey and Conley also said in a statement that they'd like to speak with any survivor or witnesses with direct knowledge of the allegations.

"This is important not only to gather information but to understand the nature of their experience and to provide access to the supports and services we offer every survivor through our offices," the statement said. "We ask anyone with this information to contact either office, and we remind every survivor of sexual assault that they can count on us to provide a safe, respectful, victim-centered environment, no matter what the circumstances might be. Sexual assault is a crime and we want to send a clear message that harassment and assault of any kind will not be tolerated."

Bryon Hefner and Stan Rosenberg. (WBZ-TV graphic)

Rosenberg announced his decision to take "a leave of absence" from his role as Senate President on Monday "effective immediately" in a letter to his Senate colleagues.

"I believe this is in the best interests of the Senate. I want to ensure that the investigation is fully independent and credible, and that anyone who wishes to come forward will feel confident that there will be no retaliation," Rosenberg wrote in the letter Monday.

Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler has been elected acting Senate president during the investigation. The announcement came late Monday after a nearly eight-hour Democratic caucus held behind closed doors at the Statehouse.

Harriette Chandler
Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler (WBZ-TV)

The Senate is expected to appoint an independent investigator whose focus likely would be on whether Rosenberg knew about Hefner's behavior or if Hefner had any clout when it came to matters before the Senate.

New allegations, meanwhile, have surfaced against Hefner.

Mass Live reports Hefner is accused of sending an unsolicited nude photo to someone who works in state politics.

The picture was reportedly sent in a text message earlier this year.

This new claim follows allegations by four men that Hefner sexually assaulted them in incidents over the last several years.

Those men say they didn't report it at the time for fear of a backlash from Rosenberg.

Rosenberg has not been accused of wrongdoing. He expressed shock over the allegations and maintained Hefner exerted no influence on the Senate.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said Rosenberg's "decision to step down from the Presidency for the duration of the impending investigation is responsive to the Senate's need to move forward and will aid in the investigation and the ongoing operations of the Senate."

"I sincerely hope this will also give victims an additional assurance of security if they choose to come forward to investigators," Tarr said. "Law enforcement professionals are prepared to assist survivors and are available at any time and I know that they will offer a safe and respectful environment with trained professionals who are compassionate about the needs of victims."

Only one senator, Andover Democrat Barbara L'Italien, had publicly called on Rosenberg to step aside "for the sake of the institution" as president until the investigation is completed.

L'Italien told reporters before entering the closed-door caucus that he did not see how alleged victims could come forward during the investigation if Rosenberg was still presiding over the Senate. She also said it would be difficult for the Senate to conduct normal business under the circumstances.

"With a very ambitious agenda for January, I don't see how we can accomplish any of this with this cloud hanging over his head," said L'Italien, who recently announced her candidacy for the 3rd congressional district seat.

Other Democratic senators declined to comment as they entered the caucus.

Rosenberg said at a Friday press conference that Hefner will soon begin treatment for alcoholism.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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