Democratic congressman denies allegations he used tax dollars to settle cases with women, as Nancy Pelosi faces criticism for praising his work
The Democratic congressman John Conyers stepped down as ranking Democrat on the House judiciary committee on Sunday, amid allegations he used taxpayers’ money to settle cases with women who accused him of sexual misconduct.
The news came shortly after the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, was widely criticised for calling the 88-year-old an “icon” because of his work in the civil rights movement.
“John Conyers is an icon in our country,” she said. “He has done a great deal to protect women.”
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Pelosi stopped short of calling for Conyers’ resignation from Congress. The Michigan representative, she said, would “do the right thing”.
Conyers, who denies the allegations, said in a statement he wanted to stay on the committee but did not want to undermine his colleagues as he faces an ethics investigation.
“I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House committee on ethics,” Conyers said.
In a statement announcing Conyers’ decision, Pelosi said: “We must ensure the Congress has a climate of dignity and respect with zero tolerance for sexual harassment.”
Jerrold Nadler of New York, the second-ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee, said in a statement: “Mr Conyers has a 50-year legacy of advancing the cause of justice, and my job moving forward is to continue that critical work.”
Lisa Bloom, an attorney for a woman who filed a sexual harassment complaint against Conyers in 2014, said in a statement her client was forced to sign a confidentiality agreement, which she asked Conyers and Congress to release.
“Basic fairness and decency dictate that if Mr Conyers can speak publicly about the matter, the woman should be free to do so as well,” Bloom said.
In their own statement, 12 women who worked for Conyers over 30 years said: “We do not condone or justify sexual harassment and believe the ongoing national debate is important. While we do not pass judgment on the specific allegations reported in the press or the women who brought them, our experiences with Mr Conyers were quite different than the image of him being portrayed in the media.”
Conyers was “a gentleman and never behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner in our presence”, the women said. “He was respectful, valued our opinions, challenged our thinking, and treated us as professionals.”
The statement ended: “We believe in due process and support allowing the ethics investigation to run its course.”
The allegations against Conyers come amid a cascade of accusations of sexual misconduct in politics, Hollywood and other industries.
In Democratic ranks, the Minnesota senator Al Franken has been accused of inappropriate behavior by four women. He has issued apologies and submitted his case to the ethics committee.
“I’m embarrassed and ashamed,” Franken told the Minnesota Star Tribune on Sunday.
Franken contacted local Minnesota media a day before returning to Congress. The first allegation against him was made just before the Thanksgiving recess and he has kept a low profile in the nearly two weeks since.
In response to a question about whether he expects more women to come forward, 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.”
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