The House Ethics Committee reportedly intends to review all claims of sexual abuse/harassment involving members and employees of the lower chamber of Congress.
According to The Washington Post, committee charwoman Susan Brooks, a Republican, and ranking Democrat Ted Deutch have submitted a request to the Office of Compliance demanding that it hand over “all records … related to any claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or any other employment practice prohibited.”
Established in accordance with the passing of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the congressional OOC advances “workplace rights, safety and health,” according to its federal webpage.
This announcement comes roughly a week and a half after the same committee launched an investigation into Rep. John Conyers over allegations of sexual harassment.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative John Conyers, Jr. may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff, discriminated against certain staff on the basis of age, and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes,” Brooks and Deutch announced in a joint statement, as reported at the time by Fox News.
“The Committee … has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding these allegations,” the statement concluded.
The investigation was launched after news broke that Conyers, a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, had previously settled a wrongful dismissal complaint with an employee who refused to “succumb to (Conyers’) sexual advances.”
The news also followed a claim in mid-November by Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier that House members had paid out $15 million in harassment settlements over the course of a decade.
“One member of Congress has settled a claim and there has been a taxpayer settlement,” she said on MSNBC, according to The Hill. “We do know that there’s about $15 million that has been paid out by the House on behalf of harassers in the last 10 to 15 years.”
She later clarified that not all the harassment charges necessarily pertained to sexual harassment. It’s nevertheless become exceedingly clear the House suffers a problem of bad behavior.
GOP legislators have responded accordingly by pledging to hold hearings on the harassment settlements and expressing outrage over the recent confirmation of the existence of an “obscure taxpayer-funded account.”
Politico reported that this account has “been used to pay for sexual harassment settlements struck by lawmakers and aides.”
“Most people didn’t know it existed,” said GOP Rep. Tom Cole during a closed-door House meeting this week. “I think there’s a pretty strong feeling that frankly those things ought to be public and those things ought to be paid for by the individual responsible, not by the taxpayer.”
It’s unclear if Conyers made use of this obscure fund, though it seems very likely he did.
As of early December he still remained in Congress, despite demands from even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who initially defended him — that he resign. However, he has at the very least stepped down from his role as a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
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