What the John Conyers case tells us about how sexual predators are treated in Congress

Late last week the Washington Post added a little more fuel to the “Jesus Christ, Men Really Suck” bonfire when they reported that Congress’s Office of Compliance has paid out approximately $17 million over the past 20 years in unreported settlements to 264 federal employees, many of whom, you can be sure, collected those settlements after having brought sexual harassment charges against members of the House and Senate. Then, last night, we learned that this might really just be the tip of the iceberg, as some of our elected officials, like Michigan’s very own John Conyers, have paid such settlements directly from their taxpayer-funded office budgets, instead of doing so through Congress’s Office of Compliance.

That’s right, Representative John Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, according to a report posted last night by BuzzFeed, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint for $27,000 in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she had been fired because she would not “succumb to [the Congressman’s] sexual advances”. The following is from BuzzFeed.

…In her complaint, the former employee said Conyers repeatedly asked her for sexual favors and often asked her to join him in a hotel room. On one occasion, she alleges that Conyers asked her to work out of his room for the evening, but when she arrived the congressman started talking about his sexual desires. She alleged he then told her she needed to “touch it,” in reference to his penis, or find him a woman who would meet his sexual demands.

She alleged Conyers made her work nights, evenings, and holidays to keep him company.

In another incident, the former employee alleged the congressman insisted she stay in his room while they traveled together for a fundraising event. When she told him that she would not stay with him, she alleged he told her to “just cuddle up with me and caress me before you go.”

“Rep. Conyers strongly postulated that the performing of personal service or favors would be looked upon favorably and lead to salary increases or promotions,” the former employee said in the documents.

Three other staff members provided affidavits submitted to the Office Of Compliance that outlined a pattern of behavior from Conyers that included touching the woman in a sexual manner and growing angry when she brought her husband around.

One affidavit from a former female employee states that she was tasked with flying in women for the Congressman. “One of my duties while working for Rep. Conyers was 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,” said her affidavit. (A second staffer alleged in an interview that Conyers used taxpayer resources to fly women to him.)…

For what it’s worth, details about this particular settlement between Conyers and his former employee, were brought to the attention of BuzzFeed by far right propagandist Mike Cernovich, the man credited the popularization of the so-called “Pizzagate” conspiracy, which posited that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta operated a pedophiliac sex cult from inside an underground fortress hidden beneath a popular D.C. area pizza restaurant. According to Cernovich, he decided to release these documents concerning the Conyers settlement through the online news site because he felt that, if he’d released the information himself, Democrats would “try to discredit the story by attacking the messenger.” [Some, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, are wondering why it was that the leaker chose to share these documents with Cernovich of all people, when they could have taken them to a more legitimate news entity. I suspect it could be that someone with knowledge of the settlement just happened to be a fan of Cernovich’s “men’s rights” work. Just as likely, however, is the scenario where the documents were stolen by way of yet another an illegal hacking campaign, which I suspect may well be the case.]

As much as I might dislike Mike “date rape does not exist” Cernovich, and feel as though the release of this news, like that about Al Franken, was timed to help both Roy Moore and Donald Trump, who are presently facing allegations of their own, I have no reason to think these allegations against Conyers are false. In fact, based on what I’ve read today, I’d say that now would probably be a good time for the 88 year old Congressman to step down. [For what it’s worth, I’m still not ready to say the same about Franken, whose guilt seems considerably less clear.]

So, just to recap, one of Conyers’ female staff members filed a complaint with the Congressional Office of Compliance in 2014, stating that, she’d been fired after refusing the Congressman’s sexual advances. This, it should be noted, is how such complaints are generally made, as Congress does not have a human resources department. In instances of perceived sexual harassment, Congressional staff members have 180 days in which to file a report with the Office of Compliance, at which time, according to BuzzFeed, “a lengthy process (begins) that involves counseling and mediation, and requires the signing of a confidentiality agreement before a complaint can go forward.” And, at least in this instance, when that settlement was reached, it was decided that the former staff member who brought the charges would be paid directly from the Congressman’s office budget over a period of three months. No muss. No fuss. Problem solved.

And that’s apparently how things like this have been handled for years, with the emphasis being on the protection of elected officials, and not justice for the victims… Here, with more, is an excerpt from an article just published by Think Progress titled, “This is the elaborate system Congress created to protect sexual predators on Capitol Hill“.

…Congress has created an elaborate system that protects sexual predators on Capitol Hill, including members of Congress and their staff. In the private sector and elsewhere in the government, victims of sexual harassment have the option of immediately filing a lawsuit and getting their grievances heard in court. But Congress has created a much different set of rules for victims who work on Capitol Hill…

And let’s not, in our anger over this story about how a woman had to be paid-off for the way Conyers apparently treated her, overlook that little tidbit about how the Congressman aledgedly used Congressional resources to keep himself supplied with female companions, when members of his staff were unwilling… In one of the affidavits accompanying the complaint against Conyers that was sent to Cernovich, a former employee of the Congressman says it was their job, “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”… So, not only was Conyers’ accuser apparently paid-off under the table with our tax dollars, but it would seem that we’ve also been paying for the Congressman’s conjugal visits.

It’s probably worth noting that I met Conyers once. He’d come to Ypsilanti with Howard Dean, not long after Dean had announced his 2004 presidential bid. As I recall, I was impressed by the Congressman, and the vision for the future that he articulated. And, over the years since then, I’ve often written of him here, especially in his role as the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, where, generally speaking, he’s been an outspoken progressive voice. With that said, though, I never really had a sense of him as an effective legislator who could harness the power that comes with seniority and experience to push through good legislation. Still, though, I liked him, appreciated his role as a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, and respected the fact that he’d been able to hold his seat since 1964, when, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, America wasn’t too keen on the idea of black folks serving in Congress. But… and this is a big but… I’ve always felt as though, sooner or later, a story would come out that would cause people to reevaluate his legacy. And, I suspect, to a large degree, I felt that way because, for a few decades, he was married to Monica Conyers, who, as a member of the Detroit City Council, was found guilty of accepting bribes, and sentenced to serve time in prison. No matter what he might have said about health care, civil rights, or anything else, I’ve always wondered, in the back of my mind, “How in the hell could he have been married to a woman who solicits bribes and gets into bar fights?” I, of course, hoped that I was wrong, and that Conyers would leave the House a hero, but it looks like that’s not going to be the case.

For what it’s worth, I suspect, in the coming days and weeks, we’ll see a number of incumbent politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, announcing that they’ve chosen to leave office rather than run for reelection. They’ll say it’s for family reasons, but, in truth, it’ll be because they don’t want to meet the same fate as Conyers, having to publicly address every instance of sexual harassment in their past, before being swept out to sea by the Righteous Pink Wave of Reckoning.

update: It’s now being reported that Conyers “vehemently” denies these claims, saying that the settlement was just to avoid litigation.

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12 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    The stories about Conyers being a “womanizer” have been circulating for a while.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    From CNN this morning: A woman filed, then dropped, a lawsuit against Rep. John Conyers for harassment in 2017 cnn.it/2zr0UQC

  3. JM
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Yes, the timing could make it appear potentially politically motivated, but that doesn’t detract from the information any or make Conyers any less wrong.

    No, Franken’s guilt is 100% clear. It’s just his guilt is less disgusting because (a) the acts committed were more stupid than awful, (b) they were (as far as we know) a one-time thing, and (c) he wasn’t in office, using his power as a Senator to intimidate, or using Congressional resources to be a creep.

    Conyers should go. Franken should probably stay. Moore hopefully loses in Alabama or is removed from office.

  4. XXX
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    “Franken’s guilt is 100% clear.”

    I would agree that he’s guilty of taking a stupid, offensive, and disrespectful photograph. Other than that, I don’t know how much is clear? Did he really assault her backstage? Did he really grope her in the photo?

  5. Iron Lung
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t anyone else think that this Franken thing is a distraction from the conversation about a guy with real power who uses his position to get sex from children? Doesn’t the perceived pettiness of Franken’s “crimes” cheapen the conversation about sexual assault in general, i.e. disarms having real discussions about the very real problems of sexual assault that all women deal with?

    I think that most men can look at the Roy Moore’s of the world and say “that is wrong.” It is hard to convince the public that a fratboy style photo is on the same level, and suggesting it does will be seen as extreme and will repel people from thinking about it altogether.

    My feeling is that this is by design, both to distract from Roy Moore/Trump, and to disarm discussions about patriarchy and male power in general.

    And it would seem that liberals have fallen for it.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    But Franklen levitated his hands above the chestal area of her Kevlar vest in front of witnesses with cameras. Who knows how far things went after this photo was taken. Moore on the other hand was only comforting a child from a broken home, helping guide her transition into adulthood.

  7. BobbyJohn
    Posted November 22, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    There have been rumors for as long as I can remember about Congressman Conyers lack of ethics for as long as I can remember. The fact that he was married to the most crooked and venal woman in all of Detroit also raised suspicion for many, especially since he never condemned her actions.
    His sexual harrassment is unacceptable, but the possibility that he is illegally using taxpayers money for his own sexual needs means not only that he should resign, but that he should be charged with the appropriate criminal charges. His age is no excuse, since he has been committing these crimes for a long time. His current mild senility is not a factor (as it wasn’t a factor in his being reelected time and again by his uninformed constituents).

  8. Jean Henry
    Posted November 24, 2017 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    All of this conversation about appropriate ck sequences is juvenile speculation and beside the point. It’s a distraction into scapegoating from the real issue of pervasive systemic normalization of sexual assault. Iron Lung may be right that equating this stuff with predatory sexual assault risks normalizing all of it— by making it all seem equivalent.
    I like the standard of consent because it’s more clear than the law can ever be, but that does not mean all violations of consent are the same. People who think some petty corruption is as big a. Issue as serial sexual assault of underage girls can fuck off.
    I know America takes ethical issues around the handling of public funds very seriously. That’s because it’s easily proven and punished in the court of law v sexual assault. Misappropriation of funds should never seem more problematic than bodily violation and yet it does. Because it’s punishable. That’s worth thinking about.
    The masha Gessen article in The New Yorker is worth a revisit with each of these new revelations. Moral outrage/righteousness is the enemy of progress. It’s our vulnerability and it is mostly self serving.
    This shit is simple. Fix it going forward. Stop hanging people out to dry. Enough . Where is the co cersation about consent, about teaching it to children. Where are the stories of women now. Crime and punishment is the opposite of truth and reconciliation.

  9. Jean Henry
    Posted November 25, 2017 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    ONE MORE TIME, with feeling…
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/should-al-franken-resign-is-the-wrong-question

  10. Jean Henry
    Posted November 25, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    One of the many costs un-tallied is the number of women who left professions in which sexual harassment and just plain gender bias was prominent: Hollywood, comedy, publishing, law, politics, academia, scientific research, engineering, art, rock n roll, etc etc.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/arts/harvey-weinstein-and-annabella-sciorra.html

    No one needs to go to jail, or even lose their fucking job. It just needs to stop.

  11. Meta
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Conyers is facing new, even creepier allegations.

    Morse told The Post she quit her internship after Conyers drove her home from work one night, wrapped his hand around hers as it rested in her lap, and told her he was interested in a sexual relationship. When she rejected his advances, Morse said he brought up the then-developing investigation into the disappearance of former federal intern Chandra Levy.

    “He said he had insider information on the case. I don’t know if he meant it to be threatening, but I took it that way,” Morse said in an interview. “I got out of the car and ran.”

    She said in the first months of her internship, Conyers did nothing inappropriate. Morse said she eagerly accepted when Conyers asked her to stay on for a paid summer internship.

    “He was one of those congressmen you look up to and you see as an icon,” she said. “I was also working on important issues and staying meant I could continue to work on them and potentially help people.”

    Morse said Conyers then began buying her gifts and asked her to dine with him in the members’ dining room. At the end of one work day, Morse said he offered to drive her to a residence where she was staying about 30 minutes from Capitol Hill.

    Read more:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/conyers-faced-mounting-sexual-misconduct-allegations-as-he-weighed-his-future/2017/12/05/5616e5f0-d602-11e7-a986-d0a9770d9a3e_story.html

  12. M
    Posted December 6, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Possibly related, Conyers will be stepping down on Tuesday.

    https://www.npr.org/2017/12/05/567160325/conyers-resigning-amid-sexual-harassment-allegations

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  1. […] I had to guess, I’d say that we won’t have Conyers in the House much longer, given the seriousness of the sexual harassment charges he’s now facing, but it does make one wonder where the Russia investigation, if we really take it seriously, and […]

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