The U.S. House Ethics Committee is opening an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the longest-serving member currently in Congress.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) denies accusations that he sexually harassed a staff member of his office.
But Conyers does admit to reaching a settlement with the unnamed staff member.
The website Buzzfeed released documents that accuse Conyers of making repeated sexual advances to women he employed and settling a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with money from his taxpayer-funded office budget.
Conyers counters in a statement that he still denies the harassment allegations but did resolve the complaint in order to “save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation.”
Conyers, the longest-serving member currently in Congress, also notes there is a confidentiality agreement in the settlement that applies to both him and the employee involved.
The allegations brought swift condemnation from some colleagues of the Detroit Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, as well as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
They say both the accusation and the fact that Conyers allegedly paid the settlement from his office funds must be investigated by the House Ethics Committee.
The ramifications are far-reaching.
Conyers is the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which would be central to any probe of the Trump Administration, up to and including impeachment proceedings, should Democrats retake the House after the 2018 elections..
The New York Times reports that some Democrats have already discussed in private whether to ask Conyers to step down from his leadership position on the Judiciary Committee.
U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has made clear she would be interested in seeking the leadership role on Judiciary if Conyers is forced to step aside.
“It’s not for me to say…But severe sexual harassment cannot be tolerated,” Lofgren says.
The California Congresswoman adds that she believes the Ethics investigation into Conyers could be completed within weeks.
Statement of Congressman John Conyers
“I have long been and continue to be a fierce advocate for equality in the workplace and I fully support the rights of employees who believe they have been harassed or discriminated against to assert claims against their employers. That said, it is important to recognize that the mere making of an allegation does not mean it is true. The process must be fair to both the employee and the accused. The current media environment is bringing a much-needed focus to the important issue of preventing harassment in workplaces across the country. However, equally important to keep in mind in this particular moment is the principle of due process and that those accused of wrongdoing are presumed innocent unless and until an investigation establishes otherwise. In our country, we strive to honor this fundamental principle that all are entitled to due process. In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so. My office resolved the allegations – with an express denial of liability – in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That should not be lost in the narrative. The resolution was not for millions of dollars, but rather for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment. There are statutory requirements of confidentiality that apply to both the employee and me regarding this matter. To the extent the House determines to look further at these issues, I will fully cooperate with an investigation.”