Allegations of sexual misconduct roiling Congress
As allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful lawmakers roil Congress, House Democrats on Thursday delivered their strongest rebuke yet with calls for Michigan Rep. John Conyers’ resignation, while those in the Senate reserved judgment for their embattled colleague, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized the multiple accusations against the 88-year-old Conyers, which included repeated propositions for sex and retaliation against one former aide who rebuffed his advances, as “serious, disappointing and very credible.”
In no uncertain terms, the top Democrat in the House said, “Congressman Conyers should resign,” a call echoed by other Democratic leaders.
Conyers’ lawyer, Arnold Reed, swiftly rejected the request as the lawmaker professes his innocence.
Reed raised the specter of a double standard as House Democrats pressed for Conyers to step aside while few have called for Franken to relinquish his seat.
“At the end of the day, I would suspect that Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain what is the ... difference between Al Franken and congressman Conyers is,” Reed said.
Punishment has been swift for titans of entertainment, media and sports, accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior and harassment leading to immediate firings. Not so in Congress, where lawmakers have said ethics panels should have time to investigate and have been reluctant to reverse the will of the voters.
Yet the clamor was growing, with some House Democrats arguing that if Conyers goes, so should Franken. That demand was made hours after Franken faced a new allegation: An Army veteran accused him of groping her during a USO Christmas tour in the Middle East more than a decade ago.
Stephanie Kemplin, 41, of Maineville, Ohio, told CNN that Franken had cupped her right breast when she stood next to him for a photo in December 2003. Kemplin, who was deployed to Kuwait at the time, became the fifth women in two weeks to accuse Franken of sexual misconduct.
The Senate Ethics Committee announced on Thursday that it had opened a preliminary investigation into the allegations against Franken.