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Congressman steps down from top post amid sexual harassment investigation

Representative John Conyers has 'expressly and vehemently' denied any wrongdoing

Alexandra Wilts
Washington DC
Sunday 26 November 2017 21:46 GMT
Congressman John Conyers (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Congressman John Conyers (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Representative John Conyers Jr, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, has stepped down as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee amid an investigation into claims that he sexually harassed former aides.

“After careful consideration and in light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me, I have notified the Democratic Leader of my request to step aside as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee during the investigation of these matters,” Mr Conyers said in a statement.

But the 88-year-old continues to deny the allegations and has indicated he hopes to reclaim his spot atop the committee, which oversees federal laws and other legal issues. The House Committee on Ethics has launched a probe into the issue.

“I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger,” the Michigan Democrat said. “I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics.”

The announcement came less than a week after a report saying that Mr Conyers had settled a complaint in 2015 brought by a former employee. The ex-staffer said she was fired because she had rejected his sexual advances.

Mr Conyers has said the payout, reported to be more than $27,000, was meant to resolve the issue and did not constitute an admission of culpability.

BuzzFeed first reported the news of the settlement, saying it received documents about the case from Mike Cernovich, a right-wing online commentator who has pushed conspiracy theories. The news outlet says it independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents.

BuzzFeed has also reported that a second woman has accused Mr Conyers of sexual harassment.

“To be clear, I would like very much to remain as ranking member,” Mr Conyers said in his statement. “But I have come to believe that my presence as ranking member would not serve these efforts while the ethics committee investigation is pending.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement shortly following Mr Conyers’ announcement.

“I particularly take any accusation of sexual harassment very seriously. Any credible accusation must be reviewed by the Ethics Committee expeditiously,” Ms Pelosi said. “We are at a watershed moment on this issue.”

This week, the House is expected to approve a resolution mandating that all members and their staffs participate in anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training.

“Next, Congress must move swiftly to reform the Office of Compliance and the Congressional Accountability Act to put an end to the days of secret settlements paid for by taxpayer dollars,” Ms Pelosi said in her statement. “We must ensure the Congress has a climate of dignity and respect with zero tolerance for sexual harassment.”

The announcement followed a Sunday morning filled with the discussion of sexual harassment and assault on the political news shows.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Ms Pelosi was asked whether Mr Conyers should resign.

“We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused — and was it one accusation? Is it two? I think there has to be — John Conyers is an icon in our country,” she told host Chuck Todd, pointing out that the congressman has “done a great deal to protect women”.

Ms Pelosi declined to say whether Mr Conyers would suffer any immediate penalty over the allegations.

“I believe he understands what is at stake here and he will do the right thing,” she said.

Members of Congress have complained about the “due process” system, saying it is outdated and biased toward insulating lawmakers from suffering penalties for misconduct.

“The whole system needs to have a comprehensive shift,” Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier told ABC’s This Week.

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