The longest-serving member currently in Congress says he will step down from his post as the top Democrat on the powerful U.S. House Judiciary Committee.
The move by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) comes as he is under investigation for alleged sexual harassment.
The House Ethics Committee opened a formal investigation into Conyers last week.
Documents surfaced alleging the Congressman had reached a settlement with a female staff member who had refused his sexual advances.
Conyers acknowledged he had paid the settlement but strongly denied accusations that he sexually harassed anyone.
But now, in a statement, Conyers says he cannot let the allegations against him “undermine my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus.”
Conyers says he requested to step aside as the ranking member on Judiciary while the Ethics Committee investigates him.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Conyers an icon who deserved to go through due process.
But she also added that she felt Conyers would “do the right thing” in regards to his leadership position on Judiciary.
Pelosi noted that this is a “watershed moment” in dealing with the issue of sexual harassment.
The House could vote this week on legislation that would streamline the process for filing a sexual harassment complaint in Congress.
The 88-year-old Conyers has been under pressure for months to leave the post of a Judiciary Committee that would be a focus for Democrats hoping to put the Trump Administration under a legal microscope, up to and including impeachment proceedings, should they retake the House after the 2018 elections.
The two most senior Democrats after Conyers on Judiciary are U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA.) Both have said they would be interested in running for the leadership post.
Statement by John Conyers on leaving leadership post on U.S. House Judiciary Committee
After careful consideration and in light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me, I have notified the Democratic Leader of my request to step aside as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee during the investigation of these matters.
“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.
“To be clear, I would like very much to remain as Ranking Member. There is still much work to be done on core concerns like securing civil rights, enacting meaningful criminal justice reform, and protecting access to the ballot box. These challenges could not be more pressing in the face of an Administration that cares little for the rule of law and a President whose actions and conduct cheapens our discourse every day.
“But 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. 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.
“I am proud and fortunate to be part of a legacy of more than 50 years of fighting for civil rights and making our country more equitable and just. I will never allow that legacy – a legacy I owe to my father John Conyers, Sr., who integrated labor unions, or my two amazing sons John III and Carl and my loving wife Monica, and the extraordinary people of Detroit – to be cast aside, or these causes to be in any way diminished.
“I am grateful to my colleagues who have called for due process before weighing judgment. I would urge them to continue to do so for any Member accused of wrongdoing. Basic fairness requires no less.”
Pelosi Statement on Congressman Conyers’ Decision to Step Aside as Judiciary Committee Ranking Member
“Zero tolerance means consequences. I have asked for an ethics investigation, and as that investigation continues, Congressman Conyers has agreed to step aside as Ranking Member.
“As a woman and mother of four daughters, I particularly take any accusation of sexual harassment very seriously. 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. I commend the brave women coming forward.
“The House will act next week to mandate that all Members and staff undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. Next, Congress must move swiftly to reform the Office of Compliance and the Congressional Accountability Act to put an end to the days of secret settlements paid for by taxpayer dollars.
“We must ensure the Congress has a climate of dignity and respect with zero tolerance for sexual harassment.”