AP NEWS

Ethics panel to probe alleged Conyers misconduct

November 21, 2017

Washington — The House Ethics Committee said Tuesday it will probe allegations that Rep. John Conyers Jr. may have sexually harassed his employees, discriminated against staffers based on age, or used official resources for “impermissible” personal use.

Chairwoman Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, and Rep. Theodore Deutch, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said in a statement that the committee’s decision to open an investigation does not mean that Conyers has violated House rules or indicate a judgment by the panel.

The announcement follows a Monday report by BuzzFeed News that Conyers, a Detroit Democrat, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint with an employee in 2015 for roughly $27,000 in exchange for a confidentiality agreement.

BuzzFeed published three notarized affidavits, dated October and November 2014, allegedly signed by former Conyers staffers. The names of the staffers are redacted, as well as the names of the Wayne County notaries before whom they appeared.

The affidavits describe Conyers making advances toward female staffers that included requests for sexual favors, caressing their hands in a “sexually suggestive” way, and rubbing their legs and backs in an inappropriate manner while in the office or in public.

Conyers, 88, is the longest-serving member of Congress and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee

He confirmed Tuesday that his office reached a financial settlement with a former staffer but denied accusations of sexual misconduct.

“In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” Conyers said in a statement.

“My office resolved the allegations – with an express denial of liability – in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That should not be lost in the narrative. The resolution was not for millions of dollars, but rather for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment.”

Other members of Congress are taking the allegations seriously, with several calling for an ethics investigation and at least one member of Michigan’s delegation calling on Conyers to resign if he used taxpayer dollars to “cover up” allegations of sexual misconduct with female staffers.

“The amazing part is that, in one of those affidavits, it says that they used congressional resources to fly in people to Washington, D.C., for affairs for him,” Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland told Fox News Business. “If that’s the case, he should resign.”

Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn called the allegations involving Conyers “deeply disturbing” and said they should be referred to the House Ethics Committee for a “transparent, fair and thorough” investigation.

“Sexual harassment of any kind is unacceptable, and everyone deserves to work in an environment that is free from harassment and hostility,” Dingell said in a statement.

She called on her colleagues to take up Speier’s bill to improve transparency around settlements, including prohibiting nondisclosure agreements and taxpayer-funded settlements.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that sexual harassers must be held accountable.

“The CBC has been made aware of some very serious and disturbing allegations against our colleague John Conyers, as well as his statement emphatically denying these allegations,” Richmond, D-Louisiana, said in a statement. “We encourage and expect Mr. Conyers to cooperate fully with any and all investigations into this matter.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon described the allegations as “incredibly serious and disheartening” and called for a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

While Conyers denies the claims of harassment and wrongful termination, “media reports of this case also point to other troubling allegations of misconduct, including the potential misuse of congressional resources,” Dillon said in a statement.

“We urge the speaker to order a full-scale inquiry into the abuse of authority that has pervaded the halls of power in Washington, along with state capitals across the country, for far too long.”

Dillon said the state party would begin requiring all candidates and campaign staff to complete sexual harassment and workplace conduct training to receive official party support.

Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, said the allegations were “deeply troubling” and require thorough investigation.

“This situation also highlights the need for Congress to create a more open, fair, and comprehensive process for addressing sexual harassment,” Levin said.

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township said sexual harassment “is never acceptable, and we must take any allegations of sexual harassment seriously.” Kildee also called for “much-needed reforms” to promote transparency and protect victims.

“Every person deserves a work environment free from sexual harassment and discrimination,” Kildee said in a statement in response to the Conyers allegations.

“The House of Representatives should lead by example and immediately act to reform Congress’ sexual harassment policies.”

mburke@detroitnews.com