Conyers’ accuser strikes back at critics

George Hunter
The Detroit News

A former staffer of U.S. Rep. John Conyers fired back Thursday at the congressman’s defenders who have questioned her allegation that he made unwanted sexual advances.

Deanna Maher first told The Detroit News about three alleged instances of unwanted sexual behavior by Conyers, including two cases in which she said he touched her inappropriately and another instance where he allegedly exposed himself in a Washington hotel suite.

After Maher’s allegations were published, political consultant Sam Riddle and Conyers’ attorney Arnold Reed questioned the claims.

Riddle called Maher and other women who made accusations against Conyers “serial accusers” who were trying to take down the 88-year-old lawmaker.

During a Thursday press briefing outside Conyers’ Detroit home, Reed questioned why Maher continued working for Conyers after the alleged abuse. She was a Conyers’ district office staffer from 1997 to 2005.

Conyers was hospitalized overnight Wednesday, according to Reed, for “tremendous stress.”

Maher, a former Metro Detroit resident who now lives in Holland, had harsh words Thursday for both men.

“You have that scumbag of all time, Sam Riddle, saying bad things about me,” she said. “He was caught with Monica (Conyers) trying to get bribes, and he went to prison with her, so he’s not exactly a credible person.”

Former Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers and Riddle, her chief of staff, were both convicted and sent to federal prison for their connection to a bribery scheme involving waste treatment company Synagro Technologies.

“As far as Arnold Reed goes, I expect that from him. ... He’s a low-level attorney who will say anything for a dollar,” Maher said. “In my opinion, Conyers is really scraping the bottom of the barrel, if those two are the ones he’s getting to lean on right now.

“Around 2000 or so, I introduced Arnold Reed to John Conyers so that (Reed) could be a speaker for an event that was about — get this — violence against women. That was one of the issues I was supposed to work on. Now, this creep (Reed) is trying to get ahead by smearing my name. ... Conyers and Reed deserve each other.”

The three instances of alleged harassment, which Maher said occurred from 1997-1999, include allegations of Conyers stripping in front of her in a hotel room; touching her leg while driving to the airport; and putting his hand up her dress during a meeting in Highland Park about water shutoffs.

“She has a story to tell,” Reed said. “It’s just that: a story. She says that Mr. Conyers sexually assaulted her in a car. She was so upset about it that she didn’t quit. She was so upset about it that she became a live-in nanny here. What victim of sexual assault becomes a live-in nanny in somebody’s home? Who does that?”

Maher insisted she continued working for Conyers because she needed the job. The House Ethics Committee also scolded Conyers in 2006 for having his staffers work on political campaigns and babysit his two children.

“I needed to earn a living, and I was 57. How many people are going to hire you at that age?” Maher said.

In addition to the allegations against Conyers, Maher also said another staffer assaulted her in 2001 by shoving her against the wall in the office kitchen in the lawmaker’s Washington office.

She said she reported the incident to the House Ethics Committee and Federal Bureau of Investigation, but that Conyers — who headed the Judiciary Committee that oversees the agencies — quashed her complaint. The Ethics Committee and FBI have declined to comment.

Maher shared an FBI document with CNN in which FBI officials claimed she didn’t want anyone prosecuted for the alleged abuse. Maher disputed the claim.

Reed said of the FBI document: “She says now that the FBI is lying. The FBI has a document saying that … she didn’t want to prosecute. She says that she didn’t tell the FBI that, but the FBI says something different.”

Maher told The News Thursday the FBI was beholden to Conyers.

“Don’t forget: Conyers was in charge of the FBI, because as head of the Judiciary Committee, he controlled their funding,” Maher said.

Maher first came forward with allegations against Conyers in 2003, when she and other staffers said the lawmaker treated them like his personal servants, forcing them to babysit his children and run other errands for him. She made similar allegations in 2006.

In December 2006, the Ethics Committee announced following its investigations into the claims, Conyers had agreed to take steps to ensure the transgressions wouldn’t happen in the future.

Conyers admitted in 2005 there had been “a lack of clarity” in his orders to staff — a claim Maher lambasted in a 2011 email she wrote to the Ethics Committee on behalf of another Conyers staffer who told her about similar behavior by the congressman.

“As you know, Conyers received nothing more than a ‘rap on his knuckles’ from Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House, for not having ‘clarity’ in his instructions/order to staff to perform illegal/unethical duties,” Maher wrote in the email, a copy of which she provided to The News.

“He was very clear always when giving orders: If you want your job, do as I say,” Maher wrote.

Former Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell told The News Monday that Maher had informed him about Conyers’ alleged sexual overtures at the time, but that she didn’t want to go on the record. Maher also told a Detroit News reporter in 2013 about the alleged abuse, but wanted to remain off the record.

Maher said Thursday she finally went public with the allegations because she thinks it will now have an impact.

“Nobody wanted to listen then, but they’re listening now,” she said. “I’m doing this because I want to try to change the culture of how Congress protects these predators. All this non-disclosure of the victims is nonsense.

“When you have some kind of monster, which is Congress itself, and they’re protecting each other, don’t go after a tentacle, go after the head,” she said. “Conyers was just one tentacle, even though he was a despicable tentacle.

“But the monster is all the members of Congress who protect each other. That’s what needs to change; it’s not just one or two congressmen — it’s the system.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN