Yet another politician has been accused of sexual harassment, and this time it’s a Democrat.
On Monday, reports surfaced that Michigan Democrat John Conyers paid $27,000 in public funds to settle a claim with a staffer who accused him of firing her after she refused his sexual advances. Conyers said he would cooperate with an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. He acknowledged the settlement, but denied the accusations.
“I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” said Conyers. “My office resolved the allegations – with an express denial of liability – in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation.”
Conyers later pointed out that the settlement was not “millions of dollars,” but rather an amount equal to “a reasonable severance payment.” The money allegedly came from his office budget, which is taxpayer-funded.
According to a Buzzfeed report, Conyers used “congressional resources to fly in women they believed he was having affairs with.” The site is also in possession of four signed affidavits from former aides who claim Conyers made sexual advances to female staffers in his office. One of Conyers’ aids said she was “tasked with driving women to and from Conyers’ apartment and hotel rooms.”
Conyers, 88, has served in the House of Representatives since 1965. He co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and helped establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. He has a reputation as one of the most liberal members of Congress.
Today, Conyers is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee – meaning he is poised to become as chairman of the committee should the Dems take control of the House in the 2018 midterms.
An official Ethics Committee probe was announced after calls from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and others.
There must be “zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying, or abuse,” said Pelosi. “As members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives and to ensure a climate of dignity and respect.”
Members of the House Judiciary Committee also endorsed the probe. “The allegations against Ranking Member Conyers are extremely serious and deeply troubling. Obviously, these allegations must be investigated promptly by the Ethics Committee,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
Reports show that Conyers used money from his Member Representation Allowance (funds provided to House members to hire staff and carry out official duties) to settle the harassment claim. This fact will increase pressure on the House Administration Committee, which has been criticized for approving millions of dollars in payments for secret settlements.
California Democrat Jackie Speier is urging investigators to look into whether Conyers used congressional funds to pay for the settlement “under the guise of a severance payment.”
Conyers has faced ethics problems in the past, including a 2006 investigation into allegations that he used his staff for personal errands, and a 2016 investigation into claims that he continued to pay his former chief of staff after she pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property.
In 2009, Conyers’ wife was sentenced to 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to accepting bribes during her time as president of the Detroit City Council.
Author’s Note: Conyers’ age, seniority, and race complicates the case for Democrats, who have so far refrained from calling for his resignation.
I would not be surprised to see more victims come out as the investigation progresses. Depending on the severity of the accusations, Democrats may demand that Conyers resign.
They might hesitate if his seat was in danger, but from Detroit they won’t have a problem filling the seat with another Democrat.