CAPITOL HILL SEX HARASSMENT Rep. Conyers steps down, Sen. Franken looks ahead


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, under investigation over allegations he sexually harassed female staff members, said Sunday 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.

Also on Sunday, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken said he feels “embarrassed and ashamed” amid allegations that he groped several women, but said he looks forward to returning to work this morning and gradually regaining voters’ trust.

In a statement, Conyers, 88, 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.”

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.

Meanwhile, Franken spoke to a handful of Minnesota media outlets on Sunday in the first interviews he’s granted since being swept into a nationwide tide of sexual misconduct allegations. Four women have accused the U.S. senator of sexual misconduct.

Three women allege Franken grabbed their buttocks while taking photos with them during separate incidents at campaign events in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Franken told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he doesn’t remember taking the specific photos, but said such groping is “not something I would intentionally do.”

Asked whether he expected other women to step forward with similar allegations, Franken said: “If you had asked me two weeks ago, ‘Would any woman say I had treated her with disrespect?’ I would have said no. So this has just caught me by surprise. ... I certainly hope not.”

Dozens of women who’ve worked with Franken, including former Senate staffers and women who worked with him on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” signed statements supporting Franken following Tweeden’s allegations

Franken’s staff didn’t respond to repeated interview requests from The Associated Press.

ber on the panel.

“Even under these unfortunate circumstances, the important work of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee must move forward,” Nadler said. “I will do everything in my power to continue to press on the important issues facing our committee, including criminal justice reform, workplace equality, and holding the Trump administration accountable.”

“Ranking Member Conyers has a 50-year legacy of advancing the cause of justice, and my job moving forward is to continue that critical work,” he added.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who sponsored legislation to overhaul the system by which sexual complaints are made and settled on Capitol Hill, said Congress must show a greater commitment to addressing sexual misconduct. Last month, she shared her own story of being sexually assaulted by a high-level aide while she was a staffer.

“This is absolutely a priority that we must focus on in terms of fixing the system,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” ‘’We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are.”

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