(LifeZette) John Conyers, the longtime Democratic congressman from Michigan, paid a former employee more than $27,000 out of his office fund in 2015 to settle her complaint alleging that she was fired because she refused to “succumb to [Conyer’s] sexual advances,” BuzzFeed reported Monday.
Conyers, 88, is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving current member of the U.S. House of Representatives — known as the “dean of the House.”
He first assumed office in 1965, and as one of the most prominent African-American lawmakers in Washington, he was treated with reverence.
But as the nation continues to examine sexual harassment and assault allegations against prominent and powerful men in the worlds of business, media, entertainment and politics, Conyers’ name has now been added to the list.
Former staff members of Conyers’ signed four affidavits alleging that Conyers repeatedly made sexual advances toward them ranging from caressing their hands, legs and backs to requesting sex acts from them, BuzzFeed reported after obtaining the documents.
The former staffers also claimed that Conyers “used congressional resources to fly in women they believed he was having affairs with.”
The woman who reportedly reached a settlement with Conyers told BuzzFeed that after making the allegations, her career in politics was over.
“I was basically blackballed,” she said. “There was nowhere I could go.”
“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,” BuzzFeed wrote. “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.”
BuzzFeed revealed that it obtained the documents from Mike Cernovich, who told that outlet that if he had published them himself, Democrats would “try to discredit the story by attacking the messenger.” BuzzFeed said it verified the documents.
Conyers denied settling the sexual misconduct claim with the woman as well as any knowledge of the settlement, telling the Associated Press on Tuesday: “I have been looking at these things in amazement.”
Matthew Peterson, a law clerk who represented the complainant, told BuzzFeed that the whole settlement process was “disgusting” for the women involved.
“It is a designed cover-up,” Peterson said. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.”
Democrats have been hesitant to come forward to condemn Conyers.
However, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, urged the House Ethics Committee to investigate the claims against him.
“The reports about Congressman Conyers are as serious as they get,” Lofgren said in a statement Tuesday. “The Committee on Ethics should take up this matter immediately with a goal of promptly assessing the validity of the news account. This reported behavior cannot be tolerated in the House of Representatives or anywhere else.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released a statement Tuesday calling the the allegations against Conyers and the reported settlement “extremely troubling.”
“Last month, I directed the Committee on House Administration to conduct a full review of all policies and procedures related to workplace harassment and discrimination,” Ryan added. “A Committee hearing last week examining this issue led to a new policy of mandatory training for all members and staff. Additional reforms to the system are under consideration as the committee continues its review.”
Congress has been rocked by reports that its Office of Compliance spent $17 million to settle 264 cases concerning various types of harassment, disputes and misconduct with federal employees over the past 20 years.
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