Another funny thing happened in what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised would be "the most ethical Congress in history." Monica Conyers, the wife of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit bribery that prompted her to resign from the Detroit City Council last year. This month, she was sentenced to 37 months in prison.
One could argue that his wife's felony conviction should not reflect on Conyers' chairmanship of the committee that has jurisdiction over federal courts, in that U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg announced that the evidence in the case "offered no suggestion" that John Conyers "had any knowledge or role in Mrs. Conyers' illegal conduct." But now come reports that, despite her husband's $174,000 annual salary, Monica Conyers has obtained a taxpayer-funded court-appointed attorney to appeal her own plea-bargained deal.
When she entered her plea, Mrs. Conyers signed an affidavit that stipulated the "defendant waives any right to appeal her conviction or sentence" if the sentence does not exceed five years. The former Detroit council member also admitted to accepting "cash payments" before and after her tie-breaking vote to grant a $47 million sludge-hauling contract to Synagro Technologies in 2007.
Hmmm: 2007, that's when Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, tried to renege on his guilty plea to disorderly conduct after he had a too-close encounter with a police officer in a Minneapolis airport men's restroom. Many critics -- and I was one -- hit Craig for trying to go back on a deal that, as a lawmaker, he must have understood.
Well, surely the wife of the Judish chairman knew what she was doing when she pleaded guilty. Just as surely, Conyers can help pay his wife's legal bills. He makes too good a living to stick taxpayers with the tab for a bogus appeal.
Now, if there has been some gross miscarriage of justice, let John Conyers speak out and defend his wife. But at the moment, the chairman is not talking. His Judiciary Committee spokesman, Jonathan Godfrey, told me that the Monica Conyers case is "a personal matter."
A senior House Democratic aide dismissed any criticism of the chairman as "smears by the Republicans." What else can the Dems say? His wife was a crooked politician -- but he didn't know it? If this were four years ago, and the wife of a Judiciary Committee chairman beholden to GOP capo Tom DeLay were sentenced to 37 months on a bribery charge as prosecutors charged she pocketed some $69,500 in illicit cash as a public official, this would be a big story -- whether the cheap-o chairman tried to fob his better half's legal bills on taxpayers or not.
It should be a big story now. When Pelosi took over as speaker, she said, "There is no question that the ethics process in the last couple of years has lost the confidence of the American people." She promised reform. But she publicly stood by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., until he resigned as Ways and Means Committee chair after an ethics committee scolding.
Last week her spokesman, Drew Hammill, said that Conyers' position as chairman "is based on his respected leadership in the House."
Maybe Conyers is respected in Pelosi's House. But that only means Pelosi should get out of the House more often.