Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat and longest serving member of Congress, announced today on a Detroit radio station that he plans to step down immediately following sexual harassment allegations by several former staff members.
“I am retiring today,” Conyers, 88, told the The Mildred Gaddis Show. “I am in the process of putting together my retirement plans. I will have more about that very soon.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said on the House floor that Conyers had told House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder about his decision.
In November, BuzzFeed broke the story that Conyers’s office settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 by a former staffer. The staffer, who settled for $27,000 from the congressman’s office budget, alleges she was let go from her position because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances,” according to BuzzFeed.
After the initial report, BuzzFeed uncovered court documents in which a second woman alleged sexual harassment by the congressman. In a suit filed in U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C., a woman detailed alleged touching by Conyers (forehead kissing, attempts to hold her hand) “repeatedly and daily.” The former staffer withdrew the suit earlier this year, after the court denied her motion to have it sealed from the public.
A third woman, Deanna Maher, who ran Conyers’s field office in Detroit, alleged to The Detroit News that she was sexually harassed by Conyers, who she said propositioned for sex at one time and touched her inappropriately on two occasions.
Conyers denies the allegations made against him, and he continued to defend his legacy on Tuesday.
“Whatever they are, they are not accurate,” he said in the radio interview. “They are not true. I cannot explain where they came from.”
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now,” Conyers continued. “This, too, shall pass, and I want you to know that my legacy will continue through my children.” In that same interview, he endorsed his son John Conyers III in a run for his seat.
Rep. Conyers, known informally as “dean of the House,” served in Congress for 53 years, starting in 1965. He is known for his Civil Rights legacy and for founding the Congressional Black Caucus.
In recent weeks, fellow Democratic lawmakers have either publicly or privately called on Conyers to resign. Last week, Pelosi, after calling for an Ethics Committee investigation, said the lawmaker should step down. Conyers had already resigned from his position as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
The allegations against Conyers come during what can be seen as a national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment, beginning with the fall of powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Men including Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, and Kevin Spacey have been accused of sexual harassment or assault.
Other lawmakers have been accused of harassment, including Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and President Donald Trump. Republican Roy Moore, who is running for Senate in Alabama, has been accused of sexual conduct with a 14-year old girl and sexually assaulting a 16-year old girl, along with dating other women while they were in their teens and while he was in his 30s.