A former staffer for Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan has accused the Detroit Democrat of unwanted sexual advances.
Deanna Maher said the congressman harassed and touched her on three occasions while she ran the congressman’s Michigan office between 1997 and 2005, the Detroit News reported. Maher identified herself to the paper as a former deputy chief of staff in the congressman’s office, although records indicate Maher worked as a staff assistant.
“I didn’t report the harassment because it was clear nobody wanted to take it seriously,” Maher told the paper. “John Conyers Jr. is a powerful man in Washington, and nobody wanted to cross him.”
Maher is the second former staffer to level sexual misconduct claims against Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress.
Last week, BuzzFeed reported on a 2015 settlement for $27,000 between Conyers and a former staffer over harassment claims. The Washington Post later interviewed a D.C. ethics lawyer who said Conyers harassed and verbally abused her when she worked for him in the 1990s.
Conyers has denied any wrongdoing.
The allegations have sparked a House ethics investigation, and the 88-year-old has given up his top spot as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Arnold Reed, Conyers’s attorney, told The Washington Post “the congressman is taking these allegations very seriously.” Reed also emphasized Conyers would cooperate with any investigation. “At the same time, he has the right to defend himself.”
Conyers’s alleged harassment of Maher began shortly after she went to work for the congressman, according to her account to the newspaper. In September 1997, Maher said she was in Washington for an event with the Congressional Black Caucus. “I didn’t have a room, and he had me put in his hotel suite,” Maher told the Detroit News, adding that she rejected Conyers’s offer of sex.
A second instance of an alleged unwanted advance came in spring 1998, she said. Maher was riding in the passenger seat of a car the congressman was driving to Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
“He was trying to feel me up with his right hand,” she told the paper. “I kept pushing his hand away. Then he put his hand on my neck and started trying to tickle me. We were on I-75, and he was driving erratically. I was saved by the bell because we got pulled over by the police for the way he was driving.”
In 1999, Maher was with Conyers at a meeting with ministers in Highland Park when the congressman allegedly put his hand up Maher’s dress and whispered in her ear, “I didn’t know you had such great legs.”
Reed, Conyers’s attorney, disputed the allegations to the Detroit News on Monday.
“At best, they are uncorroborated,” he told the Detroit News. “At worst, they’re just not believable. When you consider that they’re flying down I-75, he is driving and has time to do all of that, they get pulled over by a police officer, and she doesn’t tell him what’s going on?”
But two reporters told the newspaper they previously spoke to Maher about the claims in off-the-record conversations.
Joel Thurtell, a former reporter with the Detroit Free Press, said he had discussed the harassment with Maher at the time of the incidents. “She told me about the sexual harassment claims, but at the time she didn’t feel confident she wouldn’t be hung out to dry and retaliated against.”
A Detroit News reporter also talked with Maher about Conyers’s actions in 2013, the newspaper reported. Again, the former staffer was uncomfortable going public.
Maher did officially complain about other behavior.
In 2003, six unnamed staffers — including Maher, the Detroit News reported — filed an ethics complaint against the congressman. The allegations included Conyers using staffers to babysit his sons, drive him to events and work on a failed political campaign for his wife, Monica, on government time. In December 2006, Conyers agreed to stop using his staff in such circumstances.
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