After initially denying that he has settled sexual with any current or former staff members, Rep. John Conyers Jr. admitted Tuesday that he had reached a monetary settlement with a former staff member. But he said the case was resolved “with an express denial of liability.”
“I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” the Michigan Democrat said in a statement, first reported by The Washington Post.
“My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That should not be lost in the narrative,” he said.
Speaking earlier in the day to The Associated Press at the front door of his home in Detroit, Conyers, 88, said he knew nothing about inappropriately touching his female staffers.
The longest-tenured active member in the House, the congressman said he has “been looking at these things with amazement,” referring to the string of allegations of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
He is the latest member of Congress to fall under public scrutiny for sexual misbehavior after documents from a 2015 settlement with a former staffer over sexual harassment complaints surfaced.
The documents, which include four signed affidavits, were initially obtained by Buzzfeed News.
Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, used congressional funds and resources to fly his mistresses into Washington; made sexual advances on women in his office; and would become angry when one of his female staffers brought her husband around, the documents from multiple former employees allege.
The former staffer was paid a roughly $27,000 settlement drawn from Conyers’ congressional office budget — not the Office of Congressional Compliance fund set aside for congressional settlements.
The OOC has paid out more than $17 million over the past two decades for 264 settlement cases, some of which included sexual harassment charges.
Conyers did not admit fault in the 2015 settlement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that “any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee.
“As Members of Congress, we each 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,” the California Democrat said.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday morning called the reports “extremely troubling” and drew attention to the new House policy of mandatory training for all members and staff.
“Additional reforms to the system are under consideration as the committee continues its review. People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement.
New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the second-most senior Democrat on the Judiciary panel, called the allegations “extremely serious and deeply troubling” and said they must be investigated “promptly” by the Ethics Committee.
Two former staffers alleged in their affidavits that Conyers flew women into his office or to his apartments using taxpayer money.
“One of my duties while working for Rep. Conyers was to keep a list of women that I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources,” one woman said in her signed affidavit.
One male employee alleged that he saw Conyers rub the legs and back of the complainant “in what appeared to be a sexual manner.” Conyers touched other women this way, the employee wrote.
Multiple former employees verified the complainant’s story in signed affidavits. The woman used the OOC guidelines to lodge her complaint and open up a case. This procedure has come under fire in recent weeks for being too onerous on the alleged victims of harassment and assault.
Under current procedures, congressional employees who want to file a complaint have to wait nearly three months before they can officially do so.
The OOC gives congressional employees up to 180 days after an alleged incident of harassment to request mandatory legal counseling. If they opt to do so, that legal counseling lasts for 30 days. If the victim wants to move forward from there, he or she must next participate in 30 days of mediation, where the employee and the office can confidentially reach a voluntary settlement.
After that two-month process, the employee can request an administrative proceeding before a hearing officer or file a case in federal district court — but only after a 30-day “cooling-off” period after mediation.
In her statement, Pelosi called for the passage of legislation introduced last week by California Rep. Jackie Speier and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, dubbed the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, or ME TOO Congress. The proposal would make response training for sexual harassment mandatory for all members and staff, including interns and fellows. It would also require all hearings be completed within 180 days after a complaint is filed.
The minority leader also said Congress should “enact other reforms to advance equity in all workplaces in America.”
Matthew Peterson, a law clerk who represented Conyers’ complainant, told Buzzfeed the process was “disgusting.”
“It is a designed cover-up,” Peterson said. “You feel like they were betrayed by their government just for coming forward. It’s like being abused twice.”
Other politicians who have been accused of sexual misconduct recently include Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Multiple women testified in a congressional committee hearing last week that current and former lawmakers have exhibited sexually predatory behavior.