Ethics Committee Extending Conyers Review

OCE recommends panel investigate $50,000 paid to staffer on leave

The House Ethics Committee is looking into whether Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. paid a longtime staffer part of her salary while not performing official duties. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday it would extend its review of an inquiry into whether Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. paid a longtime aide more than $50,000 over a four-month period when the staffer might not have conducted official business.

A report from May by the Office of Congressional Ethics, with which the inquiry originated, detailed Conyers’ decision to place his then-chief of staff Cynthia Martin on leave without pay after she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor on March 30, 2016.

Conyers’ response to the House Ethics panel, in the form of a letter by his lawyers that was also made public Wednesday, sought to explain the process behind his eventual decision to terminate Martin, despite her plea being “entirely unrelated to her official duties.” Her case involved “receiving stolen property through funds that had been mistakenly transferred into her bank account,” the letter stated.

The OCE said it had evidence Martin had been paid part of her annual salary of $160,000 between April 20, 2016 and Aug. 25, 2016 but could not find evidence that she was performing official duties.

Conyers, the dean of the House, filed paperwork that placed Martin on leave without pay for a three-month period then amended that to two weeks, which would have ended April 19, 2016.

The OCE found no further paperwork was filed but Martin was still being paid by the House through August before Conyers again placed her on leave without pay. He terminated her employment in October.

The OCE report stated the agency attempted to contact Martin in Conyers’ office in late June last year, but was told she no longer worked in the office.

Conyers’ lawyers said Martin was placed back on the payroll in order to receive “severance and accrued annual leave.” His lawyer said the congressman complied with House rules because members are allowed broad authority to set the terms and conditions of employment in their offices.

“Given that there is no reason to believe Mr. Conyers paid Ms. Martin for anything other than the performance of official duties, prohibition on payments for accrued vacation or lump-sum severance, and no question that Conyers acted reasonably by seeking professional advice in the House, the committee should disturb the conscientious handling of a sensitive personnel matter,” Conyers’ lawyers wrote.

Contact Rahman at remarahman@cqrollcall.com or follow her on Twitter @remawriter.

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