When Nancy Pelosi sat down for an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd on Sunday, she had to know that he was going to ask her about embattled Michigan Rep. John Conyers. After all, allegations from a number of former female staffers that the veteran Democrat had sexually harassed them were all over the news.
All of which makes Pelosi’s trainwreck of an answer on Conyers that much worse.
Here’s her exchange with Chuck:
TODD: So, define zero tolerance. You said there’s now a zero tolerance.
TODD: John Conyers. What does that mean for him? Right now. In or out?
PELOSI: We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused – and was it one accusation? Is it two? I think there has to be – John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women – Violence Against Women Act, which the left – right-wing – is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that, and he did great work on that. But the fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing.
Later in the same interview, Pelosi returns to the idea that the details of Conyers’ accusers are vague.
“Do you believe John Conyers’ accusers?” Todd asked.
“I don’t know who they are,” Pelosi replied. “Do you? They have not really come forward.”
Pelosi’s answer overlooks a series of facts that we do know. We know:
- In 2015, Conyers’ office settled a wrongful dismissal claim with a former employee who said she was let go because she rebuffed the congressman’s sexual advances. (Conyers has said he admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement and agreed to it solely to avoid a nasty fight.)
- Four other former female Conyers’ staffers signed affidavits in that case alleging that they, too, had been the victims of sexual harassment by the congressman.
- Melanie Sloan, a former Conyers staffer, said that he verbally abused and harassed her. Although Sloan herself said she did not feel as though Conyers sexually harassed her, she did remember an episode in which the Michigan Democrat called her into his office while wearing only underwear.
So, not only do we know the number of Conyers’ accusers – at least five – we also know one of their names. Pelosi is dead wrong on both fronts.
And, Pelosi’s other defense of Conyers – “We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused…” – feels like situational ethics at its absolute worst. Pelosi wasn’t defending President Donald Trump or Roy Moore against their accusers even though they, like Conyers, totally denied the accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct made against them.
In fact, in the same interview in which Pelosi defended Conyers, she referred to Moore, the Alabama Republican Senate candidate who stands accused of pursuing relationships with girls as young as 14 when he was in his mid 30s, as a “child molester.”
Sensing that she had made a major mistake in her “Meet the Press” interview, Pelosi spent Sunday trying to remedy the situation. Conyers stepped down as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee Sunday afternoon – not a coincidence! – and Pelosi issued a clean-up statement in which she said: “No matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment.”
The problem for Pelosi is that her initial response was so so tone-deaf – and telling. Because she knows Conyers and because he is a Democrat, Pelosi was more than willing to not only give Conyers the benefit of the doubt but defend him as a “icon in our country.” Her apparent unfamiliarity with the details of the allegations against Conyers is either poor preparation for a major national interview or willful blindness.
Neither is a good excuse.