Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Should Democrats retake control of the House in November, Rep. John Conyers would become chairman of the Judiciary Committee. This is important to note because the committee is responsible for bringing articles of impeachment to the floor and Mr. Conyers has called for a resolution seeking an investigation into “those offenses which appear to rise to the level of impeachment” of President Bush. That’s not quite a call for impeachment, but a surprise November upset could be enough to convince the new chairman to follow through on his implicit threat.

Mr. Conyers has a few things to answer for first, such as allegations from former staffers that he has repeatedly violated House ethics rules. A report last week in the Hill newspaper documented the charges, some of which have gone mostly unnoticed since first coming to light several years ago. Taken together, the charges present a disturbing office environment where staffers are treated as servants and friends can expect favors to be granted.

One former Conyers legal counsel, Sydney Rooks, who left the office in 1999, says Mr. Conyers had her tutor his son, John, during working hours and that “she was not given additional compensation for the work,” according to the Hill. She said other staffers had to pick up the Conyers children from school and in effect babysit them in the office. Former staffer Deanna Maher alleges the congressman allowed a former top aide convicted of fraud to obtain a fake passport through the office, and then fled to Ghana. The aide was eventually recaptured and extradited to the United States. She also alleges that Mr. Conyers used his staff to work on the campaigns of friends and relatives, including his wife’s, without taking leave. In 1998, she says, Mr. Conyers ordered her to live in his Detroit home for six weeks taking care of his children while his wife attended law classes. In a Dec. 22, 2004, letter obtained by the Hill, Miss Maher said Conyers staffer Melody Light “conducts her law practice (charging legal fees) out of the congressional office… She has in effect hung out her shingle on [Conyers’] office door.” Says Miss Maher in a Jan. 13 letter to the House ethics panel: “I could not tolerate any longer being involved with continual unethical, if not criminal, practices which were accepted as ‘business as usual’. ” She quit in May.

If true, these allegations represent a clear violation of House rules. Using staffers for personal business as babysitters or tutors is exploitation and a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars. Mr. Conyers had better have a good explanation for all this.

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