Will House Ethics Comm. Let Conyers’ Sex Scandal Slide Like His Past Corrupt Acts?
The prominent Michigan congressman who illegally forced congressional staffers to be personal servants and work on state and local campaigns is embroiled in a major sex scandal. Various media outlets report that John Conyers, the longest serving House member and ranking Democrat of the powerful Judiciary Committee, secretly settled a sexual harassment claim by an employee with taxpayer funds from his office budget. Additionally, multiple former staff members accuse the 88-year-old lawmaker of repeatedly making sexual advances toward female staff. Democratic colleagues have already called for a House Ethics Committee probe, but there’s little hope Conyers will be punished since the notoriously remiss panel let him off the hook the last time it investigated his corrupt acts, determining that he had “accepted responsibility” for the violations. A former staffer said the legislator, a civil rights icon and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is untouchable.
If you recall, Conyers’ wife, disgraced Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, served three years in prison for bribery. Now it’s hubby’s turn to be in the scandal limelight. Affidavits filed by four former employees and scrutinized by reputable news outlets, show an alarming pattern of sexual misconduct by Conyers. In the documents the workers say they saw the congressman repeatedly making sexual advances to women on his staff, including touching them inappropriately with leg and back rubs and requesting sexual favors. The woman who received the secret settlement filed a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2014, claiming she was fired for rebuffing the congressman’s repeated sexual advances. In 2015 she was paid $27,000 from Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget in exchange for silence. “His office would ‘rehire’ the woman as a ‘temporary employee’ despite her being directed not to come into the office or do any actual work,” according to the document cited in the news report that broke the scandal this week. A law clerk representing the woman described it as a “designed cover-up.”
Three other staffers submitted affidavits to the Office of Compliance documenting a disturbing pattern of behavior from Conyers. The congressman touched one woman in a sexual manner and got angry when she brought her husband, the news report says. One former female employee, who was also the victim of Conyers’ sexual advances, was responsible for flying in women for the congressman. “One of my duties while working for Rep. Conyers was to keep a list of women that I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources,” the former staffer wrote in her affidavit. A second staffer interviewed in the news article also said Conyers used taxpayer resources to fly women to him.
When a national newswire confronted Conyers earlier this week, the veteran legislator denied knowing anything about the accusations and was quoted saying he had “been looking at these things with amazement.” Conyers has subsequently acknowledged the secret settlement with the former female staffer but denies the allegations. Now the two most senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee (California’s Zoe Lofgren and New York’s Jerry Nadler) behind Conyers are calling for an ethics investigation saying the allegations are extremely serious and deeply troubling. “Obviously, these allegations must be investigated promptly by the Ethics Committee,” Nadler said in a statement. “There can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct alleged. We also must support efforts to reform the way the House of Representatives handles these matters to make the process easier and more supportive of victims, as well as more transparent.”
The last time the House Ethics Committee investigated Conyers it was a big joke. The probe involved illegally forcing congressional staffers to be personal servants and work on several state and local campaigns. After a comical three-year investigation, the committee took no action, declaring that the lawmaker “accepted responsibility” for a series of House rules violations involving the abuse of his staffers. The ethics committee’s top Republican and Democratic members justified the panel’s inaction by declaring that Conyers acknowledged a “lack of clarity” in communicating what was expected of his official staff. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in 2009, Conyers abruptly reversed his opposition to a controversial hazardous waste project with financial ties to his corrupt city councilwoman wife. Conyers was vehemently opposed—along with fellow Michigan Congressman John Dingell—to the project in his district but later changed course to become one of its strongest advocates. With the help of his crooked politician wife, Conyers even wrote the federal government a letter supporting the plan and pushing for the permit transfers required for the hazardous waste injection well in the city of Romulus, Michigan. The letter, addressed to the Environmental Protection Agency, explained that “many things had changed” in favor of the project since he stood in opposition to it.