Top Dem: Conyers deserves due process amid sexual harassment claims

Top Dem: Conyers deserves due process amid sexual harassment claims
© Greg Nash
 
“In every one of these cases we need to have an adjudication, and if found culpable, then accountability needs to [follow],” Hoyer, the Democratic whip, told reporters in the Capitol.
 
Hoyer noted that Conyers stepped aside on Sunday as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, a move that Hoyer said "he should have done."
 
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The House minority whip argued that the process governing sexual harassment cases is broken and demands congressional action “to assure ourselves … that women who find themselves in [that] position are not victimized by the system.”
 
But Hoyer suggested it would be premature to call for Conyers’s resignation before the investigation runs its course.
 
“There’s an adjudicatory process. I think that process needs to be strengthened and it needs to be accelerated and we need to protect the accuser in the process,” he said. “But I think there’s a process to get that done.”
 
Hoyer’s comments came less than a day after a fourth woman emerged with allegations that Conyers, a 27-term Detroit congressman, made unwanted sexual advances toward her when she was a staffer in his office two decades ago.
 
Deanna Maher, 77, said Conyers touched her on the legs on several occasions in the late 1990s and offered to have sex on another occasion around the same time, according to The Detroit News.
 
Conyers has denied previous allegations, first reported by BuzzFeed News last week, but after days of pressure from House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiHillicon Valley: State officials share tech privacy concerns with Sessions | Senator says election security bill won't pass before midterms | Instagram co-founders leave Facebook | Google chief to meet GOP lawmakers over bias claims Collins defends ad showing opponent speaking Korean against claims of bigotry Hoyer questions feasibility of new threshold for Speaker nomination MORE (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders, he announced on Sunday that he would step down temporarily from the ranking member spot on the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
 
Just hours before that announcement, Pelosi came under fire for an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” where she defended Conyers as a congressional “icon” with a history of supporting women against violence and sexual predation. Pelosi also declined to say if she believed Conyers’s alleged victims, citing the anonymity of the initial accuser. 
 
“I don't know who they are,” she said, arguing for more transparency in the process. 
 
On Monday, Pelosi met with one of Conyers’s accusers, prominent D.C. attorney Melanie Sloan, and said afterwards that she found Sloan’s experiences as a Judiciary staffer under Conyers in the 1990s to be “unacceptable and disappointing.” More significantly, Pelosi said she found them to be reputable.  
 
“I believe what Ms. Sloan has told me,” Pelosi said in a statement after the meeting.
 
Hoyer on Tuesday declined to weigh in on Pelosi’s “Meet the Press” remarks, but suggested there are good reasons to side with the accusers in sexual harassment cases. 
 
“It’s very tough to come forward and make an allegation, because it subjects … the victim to very, very uncomfortable … and possible adverse consequences,” he said. “So I think when somebody comes forward … they have a credibility.”
 
The Conyers episode has launched a fierce congressional debate over sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and beyond. On Wednesday, the House is expected to pass legislation requiring all lawmaker offices to conduct mandatory harassment training — a rule adopted earlier in the month by the Senate. And a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing a separate proposal, sponsored by Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage House Dems push to delay Kavanaugh vote for investigation Dems demand answers on Pentagon not recognizing Pride Month MORE (D-Calif.), requiring more public disclosure surrounding harassment settlements like the one Conyers paid out in 2015 to the still-anonymous staffer.
 
Hoyer, for his part, said he supports the Speier proposal, but added that "it’s not enough and we need to go further.” He did not provide further details. 
 
Now in his 36th year in Congress, Hoyer said he was unaware how widespread the harassment problem has been on Capitol Hill. 
 
“Did I think it was as pervasive? No, I didn’t,” he said.
 
But the wave of recent allegations — on Capitol Hill and elsewhere — led him to sit down with both his three grown daughters and the women in his office. What he heard, he said, left him “deeply distressed and disturbed.”
 
“This is a pervasive problem,” he said. “My daughters have indicated to me that all three of them have felt harassed. That was true in my office, as well. 
 
“In that context, it is clear that strong, effective, timely action — meaning now — is absolutely essential.”