Rep. John Conyers' hometown newspaper is calling for his resignation in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against the Michigan lawmaker – and a questionable payout to one alleged victim.
Conyers is accused of using taxpayer dollars to settle a claim in secret, after a former staffer reportedly claimed she was fired for rejecting his advances.
In a scathing editorial published late Tuesday, the Detroit Free Press demanded the Democrat step down immediately.
The paper called Conyers' actions “the kind of behavior that can never be tolerated in a public official, much less an elected representative of the people.”
“He should resign his position and allow the investigation into his behavior to unfold without the threat that it would render him, and the people he now represents, effectively voiceless,” the board wrote.
BuzzFeed reported Monday that Conyers settled a wrongful termination complaint in 2015 with a staffer who claimed she was dismissed because she did not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”
Conyers acknowledged in a statement that his office paid his accuser the money -- reportedly a $27,000 sum -- but “vehemently” denied the underlying claims.
“I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” Conyers, who has spent 53 years in Congress, said. “My office resolved the allegations – with an express denial of liability – to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That should not be lost in the narrative.”
But the Detroit Free Press, which described Conyers as an “undisputed hero of the civil rights movement,” took issue with how Conyers’ office chose to handle the issue.
After the alleged victim made a formal complaint through Congress' Office of Compliance, Conyers’ office reportedly pushed to handle the situation on its own. If the woman dropped her complaint, signed a legal document saying Conyers had done nothing wrong and promised not to make any additional claims against him, she would be re-hired as a temporary “no-show” employee and paid $27,111.75 for three months, according to reports. The accuser agreed to the terms.
Conyers’ office defended the agreement as a way to avoid litigation – though House ethics rules bar lawmakers from keeping an employee on the payroll who isn’t doing anything.
"A House member can’t retain an employee who isn’t performing work commensurate with the pay, and regardless, can’t give back pay for work that stretches further than a month," the editorial board wrote.
While acknowledging that payoffs happen in the private sector, the board said “it should never, ever happen where public dollars (and public accountability) are concerned.”
Calling it a “public betrayal,” the board wrote it’s impossible to know how often the practice takes places in Congress but added Conyers should have known better.
Even though resigning would end his otherwise “stellar career,” the paper wrote that it’s “the appropriate consequence for the stunning subterfuge his office has indulged here, and a needed warning to other members of Congress that this can never be tolerated.”
The House Ethics Committee announced Tuesday it has opened an investigation into the matter.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative John Conyers, Jr. may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff, discriminated against certain staff on the basis of age, and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes,” Ethics Committee Chairwoman Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Ranking Member Rep. Theodore Deutch, D-Fla., said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.