What Congressional Tours Will Look Like Before Long [Cartoon]

Longest Sitting US Rep Accused of Sexual Harassment and Using Tax Money to Cover it Up
One public figure after another falls to allegations of sexual harassment these days. Ever since the initial allegations levied against Harvey Weinstein several months ago, a flood of allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape have overtaken Hollywood and government.

One of the most recent public figures to come under fire is the longest sitting United States congressman, John Conyers of Michigan (D). According to documents initially uncovered by Mike Cernovich, a mens’ rights and major pro-Trump activist, Conyers has used taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual misconduct while in office. BuzzFeed verified the authenticity of the contents, and the revelations are rather unsettling.

Cernovich was the one who helped to spread the “Pizzagete” conspriacy about a ring of pedophiles at a pizza place in Washington D.C. It is unclear how he obtained the documents, but he provided then to BuzzFeed for fear of the claim being discredited because of who the messenger would have been, should he have revealed them himself.

BuzzFeed confirmed the documents’ authenticity by consulting with four people directly involved in the case, including the accuser herself. In the documents are four signed affidavits, three of them notarized. They detail the settlement that Conyers reached with his accuser, including how he used taxpayer money to cover up his misconduct.

The woman, whose name is being withheld for fear of retribution, told BuzzFeed that Conyers allegedly fired her because she refused his sexual advances back in 2015. She was not the only one either.

The documents detail that he made advances towards female staffers, which included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting women with whom he was likely having an affair, sexually caressing their hands, and even rubbing their legs and backs in public settings.

Indeed, two staffers allege that Conyers had his staff fly in women with whom he was having an affair, using congressional resources (read: your tax dollars). One was even driving women to and from hotel rooms to Conyers’ apartment in D.C.

In the documents are also details of the process by which “settlements” are made, that keep the issue on the down-low; a “grinding,” clsoely-held process that left his accuser feeling like she had no option but to accept what was offered in exchange for her silence.

“I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go,” she said in a phone interview with BuzzFeed.

The woman who settled with Conyers launched the complaint with the Office of Compliance in 2014, alleging she was fired for refusing his sexual advances, and ended up facing a daunting process that ended with a confidentiality agreement in exchange for a settlement of more than $27,000. Her settlement, however, came from Conyers’ office budget rather than the designated fund for settlements.

Congress has no human resources department. Instead, congressional employees have 180 days to report a sexual harassment incident to the Office of Compliance, which then leads to a lengthy process that involves counseling and mediation, and requires the signing of a confidentiality agreement before a complaint can go forward.

After this an employee can choose to take the matter to federal district court, but another avenue is available: an administrative hearing, after which a negotiation and settlement may follow.

And that’s exactly what happened here.

The settlement offered to her was not paid out of the money designated for sexual harassment and assault claims, but out of Conyers’ own office budget.

In this case, one of Conyers’ former employees was offered a settlement, in exchange for her silence, that would be paid out of Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget. His office would “rehire” the woman as a “temporary employee” despite her being directed not to come into the office or do any actual work, according to the document. The complainant would receive a total payment of $27,111.75 over the three months, after which point she would be removed from the payroll, according to the document.

Congressional employment records verify the sums laid out, even though the document is unsigned.

It was absolutely “disgusting,” said Matthew Peterson, who worked as a law clerk representing the complainant. He was also one of the documents’ signers.

“It is a designed cover-up,” said Peterson. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.” He did not go into specifics, but spoke in general terms about the case.

BuzzFeed reached out to the Office of Compliance, but no confirmation was given.

“Pursuant to the Congressional Accountability Act, the OOC cannot comment on whether matters have or have not been filed with the office,” Laura Cech, publications and outreach manager of the Office of Compliance, told BuzzFeed News in an email.

Conyers’ office has a history of ethical issues, but this may top them all.