Fossella ended weeks of speculation about his future by announcing late Monday that he would retire at the end of the 110th Congress. Fossella was arrested on May 1 in Alexandria, Va., on a drunken driving charge, which led to the disclosure that Fossella had secretly fathered a daughter with Laura Fay, a retired Air Force officer. Fossella is married and has three other children.
House Republican leaders insisted they did not urge Fossella to retire, although they were clearly pleased with his decision to do so and had already begun making contingency plans for his replacement.
"Yes, I think he made the right decision," said Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Blunt said that he did not ask Fossella to step aside but that he thought his colleague had no other choice.
Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has tried to set a zero-tolerance policy for ethically challenged Republicans, met with Fossella last week to discuss his situation, but Boehner refused to reveal the nature of his comments to his junior colleague.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Fossella's close friend and chief defender since this scandal broke, sat in on last week's meeting between Boehner and Fossella. King said Boehner never asked Fossella to give up his seat, knowing that if he pressed Fossella, the New York Republican might dig in and refuse to comply.
"I told them, 'If you push, he'll push back,'" King said he warned party leaders. "This was a decision that he had to reach on his own."
King said Fossella had heard in "indirect ways" that top Republicans wanted him to step down, but there was never a direct threat from the GOP leadership.
Democrats plan to make a serious run for Fossella's Staten Island seat.
Two Democrats -- Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia and attorney Stephen Harrison, who lost to Fossella in 2006 -- had planned to run against Fossella. But in the wake of his arrest and admissions, other potential Democratic candidates have emerged, including New York City Councilman Michael McMahon and state Assemblyman Michael Cusick.
According to The New York Times, Recchia may now take himself out of the running.
On the Republican side, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan -- who had heard from Boehner even before Fossella announced his retirement -- is considered a leading choice by GOP operatives. The Staten Island Republican Party will start interviewing potential candidates Wednesday.
Fossella, meanwhile, faces both a court case for his drunken driving arrest -- with the possibility of up to five days in jail -- and the possibility of a House ethics committee investigation.
The ethics panel may look into his relationship with Fay or, more specifically, taxpayer-funded trips the two took several years ago. Fossella met Fay on a congressional delegation to Europe in 2002, when Fay was serving as an Air Force liaison to Capitol Hill. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has asked that the ethics panel look into that trip and another in which Fossella and Fay participated, but the panel, under its own rules, does not accept complaints filed by outside groups.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the committee could begin a probe of Fossella on its own authority. Hoyer said the issue is "clearly within the jurisdiction of the ethics committee."