Rep. John Conyers Jr., the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and a civil rights icon from Michigan, announced Sunday he is stepping down from the post while investigations continue into allegations that he paid off a former employee who accused him of sexual harassment.
The allegations against the House’s longest–serving member were first published last Monday by BuzzFeed after the site was provided documents by right–wing activist and Trump supporter Mike Cernovich.
According to that story, the unnamed accuser settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 after she says she was fired because she refused to “succumb to [Conyer’s] sexual advances.” She said she felt no other choice but to accept a $27,000 payoff in exchange for her silence on the matter.
Conyers, who has served 27 terms, also is accused of making repeated sexual advances toward female staff, including requesting sexual favors, caressing women’s hands, and rubbing their backs and legs in public. Staff members also allegedly were asked to transport women with whom Conyers is suspected of having extramarital affairs.
He continues to deny the allegations, but said he is stepping down from the influential Judiciary Committee while the House Ethics Committee investigates. In a statement on Sunday, Conyers said, “I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics.”
Appearing on NBC News’ Meet the Press, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Conyers an “icon in our country” who has “done a great deal to protect women.”
“We are strengthened by due process,” she said. But Pelosi also said she believed Conyers would “do the right thing” as the internal investigation proceeds.
Also on Sunday, the Detroit Free Press published a deep profile of Conyers and his civil rights work dating back decades, noting that the congressman, now 88, played a prominent role in impeaching President Richard Nixon, won the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Award from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fought against apartheid in South Africa, advocated for stricter gun control laws, and fought against mandatory minimum sentencing laws, among many other achievements.
But, “Conyers’ personal life,” the Free Press said, “has been tumultuous.” The congressman has twice come under scrutiny from the House Ethics Committee, the newspaper noted, adding:
In 2003, the Free Press reported on complaints from six unnamed Conyers aides who said they were forced to work on various campaigns, including a failed legislative campaign for Monica Conyers, on government time. A follow-up Ethics Committee report, however, focused on allegations that the congressman used staff to babysit his sons, help his wife with her law studies and chauffeur him to private events. Conyers’ office denied the accusations and eventually reached a deal to ensure staff knew where their responsibilities began and ended.