Michigan Democrat Conyers resigns as chairman of U.S. House Ethics Committee
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., under investigation over allegations he sexually harassed female staff members, said today he will step aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee while fiercely denying he acted inappropriately during his long tenure in Congress.
In a statement, the 88-year-old lawmaker made clear he would prefer to keep his leadership role on the committee, which has wide jurisdiction over U.S. law enforcement, from civil rights and impeachment of federal officials to sexual harassment protections.
But Conyers acknowledged maintaining the post would be a distraction “in light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me.”
“I have come to believe that my presence as ranking member on the committee would not serve these efforts while the Ethics Committee investigation is pending,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience allow these charges to undermine my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus, and my friends on both sides of the aisle in the Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives.”
Denying the allegations, Conyers, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who was first elected to the House in 1964, urged lawmakers to allow him “due process.”
“I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family,” Conyers said.
News website BuzzFeed reported last Monday that Conyers’ office paid a woman more than $27,000 under a confidentiality agreement to settle a complaint in 2015 that she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately — rubbing their legs and backs — or requesting sexual favors.
Conyers says he will fully cooperate with the Ethics Committee, which said it will review the allegations of harassment and age discrimination as well as using “official resources for impermissible personal purposes.”
At least one House Democrat, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, has called on Conyers to step down from Congress. Two others, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chairman of the largest group of congressional liberals, had said Conyers should at least step aside from his leadership role on the Judiciary committee.
In a statement Sunday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she welcomed Conyers’ decision to give up the committee leadership post.
“Zero tolerance means consequences,” Pelosi said. “Any credible accusation must be reviewed by the Ethics Committee expeditiously. We are at a watershed moment on this issue, and no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment. “