Conyers Retiring From Congress Amid Sex Harassment Allegations

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the longest serving U.S. House member and a civil-rights leader, resigned from Congress Tuesday amid allegations that he sexually harassed members of his staff.

"I am retiring today," Conyers, 88, said in an interview with a Detroit radio station. Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, other Democratic leaders and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called for his resignation.

Conyers’s resignation immediately ends a House Committee on Ethics investigation into the allegations against him because that panel has no jurisdiction over non-House members. The congressman stepped down as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee under pressure on Nov. 26.

Conyers was first elected to the House in 1964 and was the first black lawmaker to serve on the Judiciary Committee. He co-sponsored the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, voted on the Judiciary Committee for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and authored the law that created the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

Pelosi said in a statement that Conyers "shaped some of the most consequential legislation of the last half-century. But no matter how great the legacy, it is no license to harass or discriminate."

‘Champion of Justice’

In a letter from Conyers to colleagues, read on the House floor by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, he said, "I’ve been a champion of justice for the oppressed and the disenfranchised. I never wavered in my commitment to justice and democracy."

But Conyers’s retirement clouds that legacy, and it comes as both parties in Congress grapple with how to confront allegations of sexual harassment against members. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, apologized and asked for an Ethics Committee investigation following allegations of misconduct. Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama has strongly denied claims by multiple women that he sexually assaulted or sought to date them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s.

Conyers said he’s endorsing his son, John Conyers III, to replace him in the safe Democratic seat, where a special election will be held. "I want you to know my legacy will continue through my children," he said.

But there could be a family feud developing. Ian Conyers, a Michigan state senator and the congressman’s grand-nephew, told the New York Times that he plans to run for the Detroit-area seat.

Reaction on Capitol Hill to the congressman’s retirement was muted, including from Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, who is now the acting ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

“John Conyers has been a friend and mentor to me for over 25 years, and I am saddened that his service to our nation has had to end under these circumstances," Nadler said in a statement. "John has been a champion for justice his entire life, and there is no doubt that these allegations have taken a tremendous toll on him."

‘No Tolerance’

Nadler added, "With that said, there can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct that has been alleged."

Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat and highest ranking black member of Congress, also had called last week for Conyers to resign.

"I am a little bit interested in, though, why the speaker of the House called for his resignation, and there’s radio silence on Blake Farenthold," Clyburn said Tuesday. Clyburn was referring to a Republican Texas House member, who according to news reports used $84,000 in taxpayers’ money to settle with a former aide who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014. Farenthold has since said he’s going to pay back the money.

"What is the difference?" asked Clyburn.

Conyers faced calls to resign following reports that he reached a $27,000 settlement with a former aide who said she was fired for rejecting his sexual advances. He acknowledged the settlement but denied any wrongdoing.

He also was accused of harassment by ethics lawyer Melanie Sloan and sexual harassment by former staff member Deanna Maher. The allegations spurred a House Ethics Committee investigation into Conyers’ conduct.

Regarding the allegations against him, Conyers said in the radio interview, "Whatever they are, they are not accurate, they’re not true and I think that they’re something that I can’t explain where they came from."

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