The office of veteran Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, is alleged to have paid $27,000 to a woman to settle her complaint that she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances. The settlement was paid in 2015 under a confidentiality agreement, while the funds came from the Detroit Democrat's taxpayer-funded office budget.
According to BuzzFeed, the above settlement was not the first evidence of sexual misconduct on Conyers' part toward female staff members. There are reports that his inappropriate behavior included rubbing the backs and legs of female staffers, as well as requests for sex.
A former of Conyers's congressional staff admitted that part of the work assigned to the staff was to "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."
Conyers, 88, has been a fixture in Congress and Michigan's Democratic Party for decades. He is currently the highest-ranking Democrat in the House Judiciary Committee. In addition, he is also the longest-serving current member of the House. Conyers has denied that he has made any settlements in regards to alleged sexual misconduct lodged by staff members. “I have been looking at these things in amazement,” Conyers told The Associated Press.
BuzzFeed News reported on Monday that four former staffers signed affidavits claiming that Conyers had made unsolicited sexual advances on female staffers. Buzzfeed reported that a woman who filed a wrongful dismissal complaint alleged that Conyers asked to work with her in private, describe his sexual fantasies, and also encourage her to fondle his genitals.
Advised of the accusations, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said that they are “deeply troubling.” He reiterated his support for reforming the system for employees of Congress to report sexual harassment. Last week, Ryan introduced reforms in Congress that include mandatory re-education of Members and staff about Congressional rules regarding sexual harassment.
Blogger Mike Cernovich reportedly provided the documents relating to Conyers to to BuzzFeed, which "independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents with four people directly involved with the case, including the accuser." Cernovich reportedly provided the documents to BuzzFeed because critics would have tried to discredit them if he posted them himself.
A recent Congressional report indicates that the federal government has paid almost $1 million thus far in 2017 in taxpayer funds in settlements for sexual harassment and other transgressions committed by Senators and Representatives. The report came amid the rise of multiple accusations of sexual harassment and related misdeeds committed by prominent figures in government, business, and the entertainment industry.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosii (D-CA) released a statement on Monday claiming that she was ignorant of Conyers's settlement. "The current process includes the signing of non-disclosure agreements by the parties involved," Pelosi said in a statement. "Congresswoman Jackie Speier has introduced legislation that will provide much-needed transparency on these agreements and make other critical reforms. I strongly support her efforts."
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) became the first to call for Conyers' resignation on Tuesday. Huizenga said that Conyers should step down if the allegations that he used Congressional funds to "fly in people from Washington DC for affairs with him" are true. "If that’s the case he ought to resign," Huizenga told Fox Business Network on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Pelosi called for an ethics committee investigation into the allegations against Conyers. According to BuzzFeed, she said that Congress has a responsibility to uphold a "climate of dignity and respect, with zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse." She also called for an investigation by the Ethics Committee.