News| Politics | Congressman Accused of Using Staff to Baby-Sit

News| Politics | Congressman Accused of Using Staff to Baby-Sit

Published February 11, 2008

Posted April 13, 2006 –A stalwart member of the Congressional Black Caucus is in the hot seat over allegations that he had full-time nannies on the public dime.

At least two former staffers say that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), one of the most senior and powerful Democrats in Congress, had staffers scrambling to baby-sit his kids, run errands and work on political campaigns, all on taxpayers’ dollars.

But Conyers' office told BET.com that the allegations are years old, have been fully investigated and turned up no improprieties against him. His spokesman did not specify whether he thought the charges, against one of the most outspoken critics of the president and the Republican-led Congress, were politically motivated.

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Full-time Nannies

Sydney Rooks said that when she was hired as a legal adviser in his Detroit office, Conyers would leave his two boys with her from time to time and say, “Rooks, they're your responsibility for right now.  I'll be back later.”

Rooks told CNN that in some cases the boys would stay with her as late as 8 or 9 p.m., and that she would be calling around trying to find Conyers.

Another former staffer, Deanna Maher, said that she not only was a full-time nanny while serving as his deputy chief of staff but moved into his Detroit home for a few weeks to take care of his oldest son while Conyers was in D.C., and his wife was studying law in Oklahoma.

 "He handed me the keys to his car and his house and said take care of my child, Carl, and everything," she said.

The ethics manual for members, officers, and employees of the U.S. House of Representatives says that a staff member performing personal tasks for Congress members is a no-no.
 
“A Member or officer of the House of Representatives shall retain no one under his payroll authority who does not perform official duties commensurate with the compensation received in the offices of the employing authority,” the manual states.

One of the complaints lodged by Maher, Rooks and two other staffers several years ago sparked an informal probe by the Ethics Committee in 2004, but the investigation was stopped abruptly, according to a senior congressional aide.

“The baby-sitting allegations refer to events nearly a decade ago but have only been publicly raised in the last three months,” a spokesman for Conyers told BET.com. “We fully responded to all of the questions posed by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and have fully cooperated in all respects. We have not heard anything from the committee for over two years.”

Conyers is in his 21st term in the House and is the second most senior Congress member.  He is also the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The House Ethics Committee does have the power to vote for a probe into a member’s actions, but it has not voted to investigate Conyers.

Political Timing?

The 77-year-old congressman is poised to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee should the Democrats regain control of the House in November. If the Ethics Committee were to find him guilty of violations, it could jeopardize that chairmanship.

In the past, Conyers has also hinted strongly that impeachment proceedings should be launched against the president.  Since the House Judiciary Committee is the body responsible for bringing articles of impeachment against a standing president, any such proceedings would also be squashed.

The charges against Conyers also coincide with a perceived rising tide of corruption in the nation’s capital.

In recent months, numerous politicians have been mentioned in scandals. Among others:

  • Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), became the focus of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a U.S. attorney after he allegedly ordered the sale of his shares in a hospital company his family founded just as the stock was about to plummet
  • Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) recently announced that he will not run for his Texas seat in November. He relinquished his position as House majority leader last fall after being indicted for his alleged role in illegally using funds from his political action committee to help get Republican state legislators elected.
  • Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, (R-Calif.), has been sentenced to eight years in prison this year for extorting bribes from defense contractors.
  • The scandal involving Jack Abramoff, the Republican super lobbyist, has reached far and wide. Abramoff, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to evading taxes and mail fraud, is accused of providing trips, meals and entertainment to members of Congress. Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio), temporarily gave up his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee after being connected to the Abramoff scandal.
  • Reporters have nagged President Bush about photographs of him chumming it up with Abramoff. Bush says he never remembers meeting the high-profile lobbyist.

Aside from these matters are the numerous ongoing scandals associated with Iraq and the war on terror.

Just today, The Washington Post reported that the White House claimed that two large trailers were storehouses for weapons of mass destruction months after realizing the finding was not true.


Written by BET-Staff

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