Governor troubled by reports on embattled state Senate boss

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday called the most recent reports involving a former legislative leader whose husband was accused of sexual abuse "troubling" and said if they're true he should not be allowed to return to the Senate's top post.

Democratic Sen. Stan Rosenberg, who relinquished the presidency of the chamber in December pending an investigation, continues to maintain that his husband, Bryon Hefner, from whom he has now separated, exerted no influence over legislative affairs. He has not ruled out returning as Senate president if exonerated by the investigation.

The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that Hefner had involved himself in matters before the Senate, including having access to Rosenberg's Senate email, despite Rosenberg's earlier promise to keep a "firewall" between his professional and personal lives. The Globe cited unnamed people with knowledge of the workings of Rosenberg's office.

A lawyer for Hefner said in an email on Monday that Hefner "did not have independent access to his husband's official email. Nor did he have any undue influence over his husband's official actions, as is evident even from the allegations reported in the Boston Globe article."

The Republican governor called the allegations "troubling, deeply concerning."

"I think it's incumbent on the committee that's been assigned the job of investigating this to get to the bottom of these right away," Baker told reporters. "If they are deemed to be accurate I think at that point there's no way Stan Rosenberg should be the president of the Senate."

The Senate Ethics Committee hired a Boston law firm to independently investigate whether Rosenberg violated any Senate rules in connection with accusations that Hefner sexually assaulted or harassed several men, including some with business before the Legislature.

Baker called on investigators to complete their probe as quickly as possible, so the Senate could then make a "big decision" about how to proceed.

Rosenberg has cited "inaccuracies" in the most recent Globe report, without specifying. On Monday, he reiterated previous assertions that his husband had no sway over the Senate.

"I did not allow Bryon Hefner to influence my actions and decisions as Senate president, or to influence the Senate's actions and decisions, despite any suggestions to the contrary," Rosenberg said in a statement.

Rosenberg, 68, announced last month that he had separated from Hefner, 30, and that Hefner had entered treatment for alcohol dependency.

In 2014, as Rosenberg was cementing support to become the new Senate president, he promised colleagues that he would build a "firewall" between his professional and personal lives after Hefner had alarmed senators with boasts on social media about his pull with Rosenberg.

The report of Hefner having access to Rosenberg's Senate email, if accurate, "would be a clear violation of the firewall," acting Senate President Harriett Chandler said Monday following a regularly scheduled meeting between legislative leaders and Baker.

Chandler, who was majority leader under Rosenberg, has ruled out seeking the post on a permanent basis. But at least three other Democratic senators have expressed interest in the job and have begun reaching out to colleagues for their support, should Rosenberg not return to the presidency.