WASHINGTON — A former staffer to Rep. John Conyers says he made an unwanted sexual advance toward her and touched her inappropriately twice in the late 1990s, the Detroit News reported Tuesday, in the latest sexual misconduct allegations against the veteran lawmaker.
Deanna Maher, 77, who ran a Michigan office for Conyers from 1997 to 2005, told The Detroit News that there were three instances of inappropriate conduct.
Maher said the first instance of harassment happened shortly after Conyers hired her in 1997, during an event with the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington.
“I didn’t have a room and he had me put in his hotel suite,” said Maher, adding that she rejected his offer to share his room at the Grand Hyatt in Washington and have sex.
The other incidents involved unwanted touching in a car in 1998 and unwanted touching of her legs under her dress in 1999, she said.
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Congressional Black Caucus said the group has no additional comments about the allegations against Conyers beyond a statement released last week that condemned the alleged behavior and called for an Ethics Committee investigation. The statement stopped short of suggesting that the lawmaker should step down or resign from his leadership position on the House Judiciary Committee.
Conyers, the longest serving member of the House, announced on Sunday that he would step aside as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation.
The Senate Ethics Committee could also soon be investigating allegations made last week against Sen. Al Franken after Leeann Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing her on a USO tour in the Middle East in 2006, before he was elected to office. Tweeden also released a photograph of Franken appearing to grope her breasts while she’s sleeping. Two women have also come forward to accuse Franken of grabbing their buttocks while posing for photographs.
Franken has apologized, and said he welcomed an investigation.
The lawmakers are among a number of prominent men in politics, entertainment and journalism who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of explosive allegations against former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Also last week Rep. Joe Barton apologized for a nude photograph leaked on social media.
More allegations of sexual misconduct in high-profile industries have led to resignations, suspensions and firings. What kind of consequences should the accused face? Lisa Desjardins recaps the latest political complaints and Judy Woodruff sits down with Rebecca Traister of New York Magazine and Maya Raghu of the National Women’s Law Center to discuss what recourse should be available to victims.
Conyers’ attorney Arnold Reed told the newspaper that he questioned why Maher would work for Conyers for so many years after the alleged allegations. He said her allegations are uncorroborated and Conyers denies wrongdoing.
“He maintains that he has not done anything wrong,” Reed said.
Maher said she stayed because she needed the job.
“I needed to earn a living, and I was 57. How many people are going to hire you at that age?” she said.
Maher said she didn’t report the harassment because Conyers is a powerful man in Washington and she didn’t think it would be taken seriously.
Former Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell said Monday that Maher told him about the alleged misconduct at the time but didn’t want to go on the record and he didn’t report it. Maher also discussed the incidents with a Detroit News reporter in 2013 but didn’t want to go on the record.
Last week BuzzFeed News reported that the 88-year-old lawmaker had settled a complaint in 2015 from a woman staffer who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances.
BuzzFeed reported that Conyers’ office paid the woman over $27,000 to settle the complaint under a confidentiality agreement. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately or requesting sexual favors.