Ethics panel to probe alleged Conyers misconduct

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The House Ethics Committee said Tuesday it will probe allegations that U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. might 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 Florida Rep. Theodore Deutch, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said in a statement that the committee’s decision to open an investigation does not mean Conyers has violated House rules or indicate a judgment by the panel.

The committee has not appointed a special panel to investigate the allegations at this time. It’s unclear when the matter will be resolved or if the committee will ever take action on it.

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 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 sitting 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.

The congressman added that “to the extent the House determines to look further at these issues, I will fully cooperate.”

Other members of Congress are taking the allegations seriously, with several calling Tuesday 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 Business Network. “If that’s the case, he should resign.”

Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Sander Levin of Royal Oak earlier Tuesday called for the ethics investigation. Dan Kildee of Flint Township joined Dingell and Levin in also calling for reforms to promote transparency and protect victims of sexual harassment.

“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.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that sexual harassers must be held accountable. Conyers is a founding member of the caucus.

“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.”