Conyers: I knew nothing about a settlement! Or did I? Buzzfeed: Wanna bet? Update: Pelosi demands Ethics probe

From all the potential responses to a deep-dive report based on verified legal documents about a sexual harassment case, John Conyers chose … poorly. He denied knowing anything about a settlement executed in 2015 with a former staffer, telling the media that he watched the BuzzFeed story unfold “with amazement”:

Longtime Michigan Rep. John Conyers has told The Associated Press that he hasn’t settled any sexual harassment complaints with any staff members.

Conyers, who answered the door at his Detroit home Tuesday morning, says he knows nothing about any claims of inappropriate touching and learned of the story just hours earlier.

Referring to allegations of sexual harassment and assault being made against politicians and others, the veteran lawmaker says he’s “been looking at these things with amazement.”

Buzzfeed’s Paul MacLeod and Lissandra Villa immediately responded to the denial by claiming they have a source who insists that Conyers did know about the settlement. The effort progressed too far to leave him out of the loop, their source claims, although the process appears designed to provide exactly the kind of deniability that Conyers attempted to invoke:

But a person involved in the case — which went through the Office of Compliance which has a secret mechanism by which Congress has kept an unknown number of sexual harassment allegations quiet — said it had actually reached a point where he did know.

“We brought the complaint to the Office of Compliance. They didn’t even tell him about it. You have to go through ‘counseling’ and all this stupid stuff. There’s an informal mediation that takes place — the congressmen don’t even know about this,” the person said.

“He ended up knowing about this because we took it as far as you can take it before you get to the official hearing,” the person said.

Conyers’ denial seems suspect for another reason entirely. The Office of Compliance (OOC) would normally structure settlement compensation for employee complaints through a special congressional fund set aside for that purpose, one which has distributed over $17 million in such payouts over the last twenty years. That alone has some in Congress demanding a much more transparent process and more accountability for abusers, as Rep. Jackie Speier demanded when revealing this data last week.

That, however, didn’t take place in the Conyers case. As the documents reported by Buzzfeed detail, Conyers’ office paid out over $27,000 from its staffing fund by putting the woman back on the payroll for three months in a “no-show” job, effectively hiding the settlement even further. That decision had to involve Conyers, who has responsibility for the use of those funds. Otherwise, he’d have to wonder why an employee making over $9,000 a month never showed up for work — especially since he’d worked closely with her in the past. Too closely, in fact. Either Conyers knew full well about the settlement or he’s the worst absentee politician in the House, and I know which way I’m betting between the two.

Not long after that, Conyers reversed himself and acknowledged he did know about the settlement, but that he was totally innocent of the allegations. Really. You can trust him … now:

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) on Tuesday issued a statement denying the sexual harassment allegations against him while acknowledging the existence of a settlement with a former employee in 2015.

Conyers said he “vehemently” denies the allegations made by the former employee but settled with her to avoid litigation.

“My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation.”

So why did Conyers deny it when asked by an AP reporter this morning? His office says Conyers was “confused.” Riiiiiiiiight.

Even that misses the forest for the trees, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) told Fox News earlier today. The documents also contain testimony from multiple witnesses that Conyers used House resources to fly his paramours to meet him for sexual relations. If that’s the case, then Conyers needs to resign ASAP:

Speaker Paul Ryan called all of the allegations “extremely troubling,” but stopped short of calling for specific action against Conyers:

This report is 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. 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. People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination.

Conyers’ Democratic colleagues in the House weren’t so reticent:

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who both serve with Conyers on the House Judiciary Committee, said the sexual misconduct allegations against the Michigan Democrat are “troubling” and “serious.” The two lawmakers believe the Ethics Committee should probe the accusations involving Conyers, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

“The allegations against Ranking Member Conyers are extremely serious and deeply troubling,” Nadler said in a statement. “Obviously, these allegations must be investigated promptly by the Ethics Committee. There must be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct alleged.”

“The reports about Congressman Conyers are as serious as they get,” Lofgren said in a statement. “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.”

That should be easy. The Ethics Committee can call on the OOC to release the settlement documents and see for themselves. The question will be whether they’ll recommend expulsion if they turn out to be as bad as the Buzzfeed report paints them. And that probably rests on just how far the OOC has gone to hide similar behavior conducted by Conyers’ peers, including helping out with nifty ways to hide settlement payouts. The Conyers scandal has the potential to blow the lid off of several more scandals. Just how anxious are members of both parties to see that happen? That’s the biggest question of all.

Update: Are the wheels on the bus about to go round and round over Conyers — or just shift into neutral?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is calling for an ethics investigation into her Democratic colleague, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), amid new allegations of sexual misconduct with female staffers.

“As I have said before, any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday. …

“As Members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives and to ensure a climate of dignity and respect, with zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse,” the California lawmaker continued.

An Ethics probe would be a necessary prerequisite to any other disciplinary action, so Pelosi’s call is certainly significant. The caveats above still apply, however.

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