Conyers' former top staffer accuses congressman of inappropriate touching

A former deputy chief of staff said Rep. John Conyers made an unwanted sexual advance toward her and touched her inappropriately twice in the late 1990s, the Detroit News reported Tuesday, in the latest sexual misconduct allegations against the veteran lawmaker.

Deanna Maher, 77, who ran a Michigan office for Conyers from 1997 to 2005, told The Detroit News that there were three instances of inappropriate conduct.

She says the first was in 1997, when she rejected his offer to share a hotel room and have sex. The others involved unwanted touching in a car in 1998 and unwanted touching of her legs under her dress in 1999.

“He was trying to feel me up with his right hand,” she told the paper. “I kept pushing his hand away. Then he put his hand on my neck and started trying to tickle me. We were on I-75, and he was driving erratically. I was saved by the bell because we got pulled over by the police for the way he was driving.”

Maher said the first instance of harassment happened shortly after Conyers hired her in 1997 during an event with the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington.

"I didn't have a room and he had me put in his hotel suite," said Maher, adding that she rejected his offer to share his room at the Grand Hyatt in Washington and have sex.

Conyers' attorney, Arnold Reed, told the newspaper that he questioned why Maher would work for Conyers for so many years after the alleged allegations. He said her allegations are uncorroborated and Conyers denies wrongdoing.

“At best, they are uncorroborated. At worst, they’re just not believable. When you consider that they’re flying down I-75, he is driving and has time to do all of that, they get pulled over by a police officer, and she doesn’t tell him what’s going on?” Reed said.

“Any female or male that comes forward and says anybody harasses them, that is serious. Those things are not to be taken lightly. But we have to be able to at least have some corroboration if we’re going to be saying my client did something wrong.”

Maher said her need for employment explains why she stayed on the job.

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

Maher said she didn't report the harassment because Conyers is a powerful man in Washington and she didn't think it would be taken seriously.

Former Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell said Monday that Maher told him about the alleged misconduct at the time, but didn't want to go on the record and he didn't report it. Maher also discussed the incidents with a Detroit News reporter in 2013 but didn't want to go on the record.

The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation of Conyers and he said Sunday he would step aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, after a news website reported last week that Conyers settled a complaint in 2015 from a woman staffer who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances.

Conyers, 88, confirmed his office settled a harassment complaint involving a former staffer,but denied the allegations.

Conyers is among a number of prominent men in politics, entertainment and journalism who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of explosive allegations against former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.