Ethics sirens times two: New allegations emerge against Franken, Conyers

We’re on the cusp of a holiday news cycle, but the workload of the House and Senate Ethics Committees continues to expand. Two new reports lodge new allegations against two members of Congress already in the sexual-harassment spotlight, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative John Conyers (D-MI). HuffPost reports that two more women have come forward anonymously to accuse Franken of groping episodes similar to an allegation made by Lindsay Menz earlier this week:

Two more women have told HuffPost that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) touched their butts in separate incidents. These are the third and fourth such allegations against Franken in the past week. Leeann Tweeden, a radio host, wrote last week that Franken had kissed and groped her without her consent during a 2006 USO tour. On Monday, Lindsay Menz accused Franken of groping her at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. …

The two additional women, who said they were not familiar with each others’ stories, both spoke on condition of anonymity. But their stories, which describe events during Franken’s first campaign for the Senate, are remarkably similar — and both women have been telling them privately for years. …

The first woman, who spoke to HuffPost on condition of anonymity because she’s worried she’ll be harassed online for making the allegation, said Franken groped her when they posed for a photo after a June 25, 2007, event hosted by the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus in Minneapolis.

“My story is eerily similar to Lindsay Menz’s story,” the first woman said. “He grabbed my buttocks during a photo op.”

The second woman told HuffPost that Franken cupped her butt with his hand at a 2008 Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis, then suggested the two visit the bathroom together. She spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear that the allegation could affect her position at work.

Franken claimed he has no recollection of the events at which these alleged incidents took place, but categorically denies ever asking a woman to join him in the bathroom. The woman claims that she told Franken that she had to use the restroom to get away from him after he “cupped my butt,” but he used her excuse as an entrée for a proposition. She has been telling friends this allegation for several years, including one of HuffPost’s reporters (a friend of hers), but only now wants to make it more well known.

The other woman has a different reason for putting her story on the record:

“Only two people have come forward, and people are saying that this is a right-wing conspiracy,” she said. “It’s not. I’m a liberal person. … I voted for him after this happened.”

Meanwhile, Conyers’ new accuser has put her name to the allegation — and it’s a very well-known name in progressive circles. Melanie Sloan, a former Conyers staffer but more well known as the former head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), alleges that Conyers abused and harassed her during her tenure in his office. Conyers once called Sloan into her office, she tells the Washington Post, while only wearing his underwear:

A high-profile Washington lawyer specializing in congressional ethics said Wednesday that Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) harassed and verbally abused her when she worked for him on Capitol Hill in the 1990s and that her repeated appeals for help to congressional leadership were ignored.

“There was nothing I could do to stop it,” Melanie Sloan said in an interview. “Not going to leadership, not going to my boss, not going to a women’s group, not going to a reporter. I was dismissed and told I must be mentally unstable.” …

Sloan said that Conyers routinely yelled at and berated her, often criticizing her appearance. On one occasion, she said, he summoned her to his Rayburn Building office, where she found him in his underwear.

“I was pretty taken aback to see my boss half-dressed,” she said. “I turned on my heel and I left.”

Sloan is no lightweight on Capitol Hill. She has fought tough battles with elected officials for years while at CREW, especially with Tom DeLay and John Ensign, whose careers she helped derail with ethics complaints. That will make her testimony all the more powerful if the House Ethics Committee calls her to testify.

And the way things are shaping up, it will be when, not if. Hopefully, the members of both ethics committees get plenty of rest and relaxation over the Thanksgiving holiday, because they will have a ton of work waiting for them when they get back.

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Jazz Shaw 3:01 PM on January 26, 2023