An explosive report rocked Capitol Hill late Monday and early Tuesday, with the allegation that Rep. John Conyers – the longest-serving active member of the House of Representatives – settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 after he was accused of sexually harassing a staffer.
The allegations regarding the Michigan Democrat stem from a BuzzFeed News report posted Monday evening that includes four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former aides who allege that Conyers made sexual advances to female staff in his office. The repeated requests from Conyers, according to BuzzFeed, included sexual favors, inappropriate touching and transporting women who were believed to be having affairs with the congressman.
Conyers on Tuesday said he was “expressly and vehemently” denying any wrongdoing.
“In our country, we strive to honor this fundamental principle that all are entitled to due process,” Conyers said in a statement. “In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so.”
The House Ethics Committee announced on Tuesday that it has opened an investigation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan
In a statement Tuesday, Ryan did not name Conyers, but called the report “extremely troubling.”
“Last month, I directed the Committee on House Administration to conduct a full review of all policies and procedures related to workplace harassment and discrimination,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “A Committee hearing last week examining this issue led to a new 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.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Pelosi said that all 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,” the California Democrat added 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.”
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer:
Hoyer called the report “very disturbing” and said the House of Representatives “ought to observe a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and discrimination.”
“I believe an ethics investigation is an appropriate next step,” he added. “It is clear the process for reporting this type of behavior and holding those responsible accountable must be reformed. I strongly support mandatory training for members and staff as well as legislation introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier to overhaul the system. I encourage the Committee on House Administration to move quickly to establish new rules that protect victims, hold those responsible accountable for misconduct and provide transparency to the American people. As we continue to receive additional information, I will be discussing additional actions to address this issue with my colleagues.”
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler:
Nadler, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called the allegations “extremely seriously and deeply troubling.”
“Obviously, these allegations must be investigated promptly by the Ethics Committee,” Nadler said in a statement. “There can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct alleged. We also must support efforts to reform the way the House of Representatives handles these matters to make the process easier and more supportive of victims, as well as more transparent.”
Nadler, in an interview Tuesday evening on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” said it was important to have a “proper investigation” into Conyers’ alleged conduct. He stopped short of calling for Conyers to resign and said to wait for more facts to come forward as the ethics probe unfolded.
“I think it’s a little too early to say that,” Nadler said of resignation. “Wait a little while before you make that conclusion.”
Nadler anticipated the key facts would become known in short order.
“I think this whole thing is going to work out very, very rapidly,” Nadler said.
Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley
“Frankly, if I was in his place, I would leave.”
Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, said “absolutely” that if the allegations about Conyers and Sen. Al Franken are proven to be true they should go, and he said the revelations about Conyers were “deeply disturbing.”
“It’s deeply disturbing that my colleague, Mr. Conyers, used his own resources within his office to make this some sort of settlement instead of going through the official process,” Quigley said Tuesday on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
Quigley called the structure currently in place for reporting sexual harassment in Congress “incredibly broken,” and said it is “designed to protect members and their insidious attacks on women.”
“It has to change. It has to change now,” he said.
California Rep. Zoe Lofgren:
Lofgren, a senior Democrat on the judiciary panel and a former chair of the House’s Ethics Committee, called the allegations “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,” she said in a statement.
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus:
“The CBC has been made aware of some very serious and disturbing allegations against our colleague, John Conyers, as well as his statement emphatically denying these allegations,” Richmond said in a statement. “We encourage and expect Mr. Conyers to cooperate fully with any and all investigations into this matter.”
Richmond also said that the caucus’s position is that “no matter the perpetrator, no matter the victim, those responsible for sexual harassment and/or sexual assault must be held accountable.”
California Rep. Jackie Speier:
Speier, a California Democrat, has introduced legislation to overhaul the way instances of sexual harassment are treated on Capitol Hill.
“The allegations against Congressman Conyers are serious. The House Committee on Ethics should be called upon immediately to investigate,” Speier said. “Beyond the sexual harassment allegations are allegations that call into question the amount of money that is used to settle sexual harassment cases, and whether some Members are using their tax payer-funded office budgets to make settlements under the guise of severance payments. If this is true, the amount of tax payer money used to settle these cases is even higher than the number that’s been provided by the Office of Compliance.”
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow:
“Sexual harassment is always unacceptable,” said Stabenow, a Democrat from Conyers’ state. “This news is deeply disturbing. I support a full review of Congressional sexual harassment policies and procedures and actions to address this serious problem.”
CNN’s MJ Lee, David Wright, Sophie Tatum, Sunlen Serfaty, Deirdre Walsh and Eli Watkins contributed to this report.