I honestly cannot keep up. We’re going to wake up tomorrow morning to 20 new allegations of misconduct against members of Congress, entertainment moguls, reporters, and other movers and shakers and the task of the day will be figuring out which ones get covered and which ones there simply aren’t time for.
We’ve reached the triage stage of Pervnado.
BuzzFeed, which broke the story of John Conyers’s apparent secret payoff to a woman who’d accused him of harassment, kept digging and found a lawsuit in D.C. that was filed in February of this year alleging the same thing against Conyers — and later dropped. Why was it dropped? Because the court wouldn’t seal the suit, which would mean the plaintiff would be known to all of Capitol Hill and its many barnacles as someone who snitches on predators. That could have meant the end of her career in Washington. And it would have earned her the wrath of Team Conyers, which, per BuzzFeed, is not an enemy you want to have.
[T]he former staffer says the advances only grew more frequent over time, and from May to July of 2016 she was exposed to daily harassment by Conyers that included “rubbing on her shoulders, kissing her forehead, covering and attempting to hold her hand” as well as on some occasions urging her to come to his home…
Compounding her stress, the former staffer alleges in the complaint, was that Conyers’ wife Monica Conyers referred to her as a “whore” and accused her of wanting to have an affair with her husband. The former staffer described the situation as a “time bomb waiting to happen.”
She said she eventually became so unwell that she tried to go on sick leave in 2016. Her court filings outline a series of events wherein documents were stolen from her flash drive by a coworker and shared with her superiors. When her boss, Conyers’ chief of staff Raymond Plowden — who is also listed as a defendant in the former staffer’s suit — demanded medical documents to justify her sick leave, she said she chose not to provide them due to the “atmosphere of mistrust.” Her position was then terminated.
Conyers is 88 years old. He’s been in Congress for 52 years, grotesquely, having been elected for the first time on the same day that Lyndon Johnson routed Barry Goldwater. If the two women discovered by BuzzFeed are telling the truth, consider how long and how far this pattern of abuse may have stretched.
He’s a congressional institution, not a guy who’d be easy to force out even in his diminished state, but if anyone should seize the Pervnado coverage as an excuse to very, very belatedly retire, it’s him. Bill Kristol noted this morning that it’ll be interesting to see which members of Congress surprise everyone by suddenly declaring their intention to step down next year as the media’s sexual harassment reporting creeps closer. Call it a looming “Sexodus” from the Hill if you like or, as I prefer, a “Pervacuation.” There’s an easy, though highly dangerous, way to speed it up too:
I wonder if any member of Congress will introduce legislation to attempt to render null and void the NDAs from sexual misconduct settlements with members of Congress, so their survivors can talk if they wish.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 21, 2017
I’ll leave it to legal eagles to opine on whether that would be constitutional. The most obvious potential bar is the Contract Clause but by its own terms that applies only to state governments. Possibly a court would limit Congress’s ability to abrogate contracts as a matter of due process under the Fifth Amendment. But let’s at least try. As I’ve said before and as Josh Barro says today, there’s no earthly reason why supposedly accountable lawmakers in a republican democracy should be allowed to hide their misconduct from the people.
We deserve as taxpayers to know how our money is being used, and we deserve as voters to know which elected officials are misbehaving egregiously at work. A culture that tolerates sexual harassment on Capitol Hill isn’t just bad for women who work there — it’s bad for members of the broader public, who have to live under laws written in a context that tolerates harassment.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, has brought forward legislation to bring transparency to the congressional settlement fund. But we also deserve disclosures from each individual office: Have you used regular operating funds to pay settlements, and in what amounts?
The diversion of staff budgets to pay settlements is a more serious matter than House Bank overdrafts — and the overdrafts were considered a serious enough matter by the public that they refused to reelect many members of the House in 1992.
At the moment congressional malefactors operate with almost total impunity. The ethics committees are a joke that never punish anyone. The Office of Compliance’s process for filing a harassment complaint is byzantine and carefully circumscribed by reporting deadlines, seemingly to discourage victims from speaking up. Harassment settlements that the office does end up paying out are secret, and if BuzzFeed’s reporting is accurate, even those can sometimes be kept entirely off the books by paying off victims out of a congressman’s regular office budget, as Conyers is alleged to have done. If Congress is unwilling or unable for constitutional reasons to nuke any NDAs on the books and reveal which members have entered into settlements in the past, at the barest minimum it should pass a law preventing members from entering into NDAs going forward. If the predators of the past are destined to get off scot free, make sure the predators of the future aren’t.
But don’t take my word for it. Exit quotation:
Pres. Trump says he believes that Congress should release names of lawmakers who have privately settled sexual harassment claims: "I really do."
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) November 21, 2017