Top Judiciary Dems call for ethics probe of Conyers

Top Judiciary Dems call for ethics probe of Conyers
© Greg Nash

Senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are calling for an ethics probe of Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersConservative activist disrupts campaign event for Muslim candidates Michigan Dems elect state's first all-female statewide ticket for midterms Record numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) after a report revealed that staffers have accused the senior lawmaker of sexual harassment.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBipartisan group of lawmakers offer bill to provide certainty following online sales tax ruling Women poised to take charge in Dem majority Live coverage: Tensions mount as Rosenstein grilled by GOP MORE (Calif.), the second and third most senior Democrats on the powerful committee, respectively, said early Tuesday that the House Ethics Committee should investigate the validity of the BuzzFeed News report published late Monday night.

"The reports about Congressman Conyers are as serious as they get. The Committee on Ethics should take up this matter immediately with a goal of promptly assessing the validity of the news account. This reported behavior cannot be tolerated in the House of Representatives or anywhere else," Lofgren said in a statement Tuesday morning.

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Nadler issued a statement around the same time calling the allegations against Conyers "extremely serious and deeply troubling."

“Obviously, these allegations must be investigated promptly by the Ethics Committee. There can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct alleged," Nadler said.

BuzzFeed News obtained documents that showed former staff members alleging that Conyers repeatedly made sexual advances to female aides that included requests for sexual favors, touching them inappropriately, and contacting and transporting women with whom he was suspected of having affairs.

According to BuzzFeed News, Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged he fired her because she would not "succumb to [his] sexual advances." 

Conyers denied the allegations in a statement on Tuesday, but said he would cooperate with an investigation.

"My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation," Conyers said. "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."

According to the report, Conyers's taxpayer-funded office paid a more than $27,000 settlement in exchange for a confidentiality agreement.

Earlier Tuesday, Conyers had denied to The Associated Press that he had settled any sexual harassment complaints with former staffers. 

Conyers is currently the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and is the longest-serving member of the House.

Leaders in both parties have so far refrained from calling for him to step down as the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee or to resign altogether.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that she was not aware of the settlement.

On Tuesday, Pelosi said members of Congress “have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives and to ensure a climate of dignity and respect, with zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse.”

“As I have said before, any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee,” she said in a statement. “In addition, we must pass the Me Too Congress Act sponsored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier and enact other reforms to advance equity in all workplaces in America.”

The bill introduced by Speier (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandEx-GOP donor urges support for Dems in midterms: 'Democracy is at stake' Overnight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Former Virginia Gov. McAuliffe to visit Iowa, fueling 2020 speculation MORE (D-N.Y.) would overhaul the system available through the Office of Compliance to report harassment and mandate sexual harassment awareness training for members and staff.

Monetary settlements for harassment and discrimination cases on Capitol Hill are typically paid from a special fund operated by the Treasury Department. The Speier–Gillibrand bill would require lawmakers accused of harassment to pay back the taxpayers.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor Juan Williams: America warms up to socialism Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Wis.) also issued a statement calling the allegations against Conyers "extremely troubling" and reiterated his support for reforming the House's sexual harassment prevention policies. But he also did not say whether Conyers should stay or go.

If Conyers were to relinquish his position on the Judiciary Committee, Lofgren and Nadler would be the most likely contenders to replace him.

Conyers previously served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 2007 to 2011. Before that, he chaired the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 1989 to 1995.

This report was updated at 2:27 p.m.