Here's what we know about allegations against Michigan Democratic Congressman John Conyers. Detroit Free Press staff
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., headed back to Detroit on Tuesday night amid new questions about sexual harassment accusations against him and how they were handled by his office and media reports that the other members of the Congressional Black Caucus were encouraging him to resign.
Conyers and a woman believed to be his wife, Monica, were seen on a flight that landed at Detroit Metro Airport about 9 p.m. ET after the congressman missed a series of votes on the House floor.
Earlier in the day, CNN first quoted unnamed sources saying some members of the Congressional Black Caucus — one of the most powerful Democratic blocs in the U.S. House and one which Conyers, 88, helped found — were encouraging him to resign as a way to protect his legacy as a civil rights legend with an ethics investigation under way and new accusations being raised against him.
The possibility of a resignation was acknowledged by Arnold Reed, Conyers’ attorney, in an interview Tuesday. Reed said Conyers would always act in the best interest of the American people, including to resign if that were called for.
“If he feels that it’s in the best interest to step aside and step down, that’s what he’s going to do. I wouldn’t rule it out. Anything is a possibility,” Reed said. Last week, Reed issued a statement to people calling for Conyers' resignation, saying, "That is not going to happen."
Reed said Tuesday that as of his most recent conversation, the congressman did not intend to step down. But he said the sex scandal has already marred the congressman’s legacy, even with some allegations having already been refuted and Conyers steadfastly denying that he harassed anyone.
“But people don’t hear that ... and it has taken a toll on the congressman,” Reed said.
“It does remain increasingly difficult without the support in Washington. But juxtapose Washington to Detroit. ... He enjoys a lot of support here. There are a lot of people who do not want Congressman Conyers to step aside," he said. But he added that the pressure in Washington was taking its toll.
Conyers sudden departure for Detroit — he was spotted on a flight from Washington by Republican consultant and pundit Dennis Lennox, who tweeted a photo before takeoff —seemed to suggest he could be readying to make some announcement, though on Tuesday night Conyers' office sent out a statement from Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., saying that any members of Congress accused of sexual harassment should be afforded due process.
Leaving the House floor after votes, Richmond declined to confirm the rumors about the caucus pressuring Conyers to resign, but acknowledged he had talked with Conyers.
“He’s a member of the caucus and we had a lengthy discussion," he said. As to whether he thinks Conyers will resign or not, Richmond said that’s “a personal decision.”
The Congressional Black Caucus is set to have its regular meeting Wednesday.
If Conyers were to step down, it would mark a dramatic fall for the longest-serving active member of Congress and a man who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and employed Rosa Parks. Conyers on Sunday resigned as ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, where he had served as chair or ranking member since 1995.
Meanwhile, the Free Press has learned that Conyers’ payment of more than $27,000 in office funds to a former employee who alleged sexual harassment may have come only after the deal was first turned down by a committee tasked with approving settlements of employee claims against members of Congress.
Macomb Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller — a former member of Congress who chaired the House Administration Committee from 2013 through 2016 — said on Tuesday that she remembered seeing a proposed settlement for “about $27,000” and that she refused to sign off on it.
“Obviously, I wasn’t going to approve sending taxpayer dollars to protect members of Congress who were acting like dogs,” she said, adding that she was in no way “sympathetic” to congressmen accused of sexual harassment.
Conyers, who was first elected in 1964, is facing several accusations that he harassed former members of his staff, including one from a woman whom he acknowledges he settled a complaint with in 2015 for more than $27,000. Conyers has steadfastly denied sexually harassing anyone, however.
The Free Press has also reported on a lawsuit that was filed earlier this year by another employee alleging Conyers made sexual advances, though she withdrew it when a judge refused to seal the record, saying she didn’t want to hurt Conyers’ reputation.
And another woman, Melanie Sloan, a Washington lawyer who once worked for Conyers, also told the Free Press on Thanksgiving that he was professionally abusive to her and showed up for a meeting with her once in his underwear, though she didn’t consider it sexual harassment.
On Tuesday, yet another former Conyers employee, Deanna Maher, alleged in comments on CNN that Conyers improperly touched and groped her on three occasions between 1997 and 1999. Maher has made allegations against Conyers in the past, telling the Free Press he required her and others to do work outside the scope of their duties and at one point ordered Maher to spend six weeks at his home watching his children while his wife was out of town.
The time during which Maher previously said she would have been ordered by Conyers to stay at his house was during the years when Maher says Conyers also made sexual advances toward her.
The comments Tuesday by Miller, R-Mich., could shed light on the process by which Conyers settled the complaint in 2015 using office funds. The House Ethics Committee is looking not only at accusations against Conyers of sexual harassment but of whether he misused taxpayers’ funds.
On Tuesday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California — a longtime ally of Conyers’ — told the Ethics Committee to ask whether it needed more resources to “fairly and swiftly” investigate the accusations, calling it “a watershed moment ... in the fight against sexual harassment.”
The payment was made to the woman as compensation even though she didn’t work during the time in question — a possible violation of House rules. The woman’s name has not been made public and her lawyer has asked that confidentiality agreements in the settlement be dropped so she can speak out.
Under the normal process with complaints against members of Congress, the Office of Compliance works with both parties through a series of consultations and mediations, leading to either a settlement or a possible complaint in federal court. Under House rules, settlements are paid out of a fund set aside for that purpose in the U.S. Treasury — but only if both the chairman and ranking minority party member of the House Administration Committee sign off on them first.
Miller said that the settlements put before her for her signature never identified the names of the parties but listed what the complaint alleged. In the two or three settlements she saw involving sexual harassment claims, Miller said she refused to sign them, however.
Since it was confidential, Miller said she could not say for sure the settlement was the one that involved Conyers. But she said the timing and the amount suggested to her that it might be. Without her signature, no payment through the usual process could be made, she said.
Last week, the website Buzzfeed published a copy of what appeared to be the unsigned agreement between Conyers and the woman, which called for her to be paid some $27,000 for a “severance period.” As part of that settlement, Conyers denied outright all the allegations the woman made against him — as he has with all the other allegations. as well.
Contributing: Rochelle Riley and Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press; Eliza Collins of USA TODAY; follow Todd Spangler on Twitter: @tsspangler