DETROIT (AP) — Members of U.S. Rep. John Conyers’ family rallied in support of the 88-year-old lawmaker who is facing calls for his resignation after sexual harassment allegations by several former staffers.
Monica Conyers told reporters staked outside the couple’s gated Detroit home Wednesday that her husband is entitled to have the judicial process play out “before we start being his judge and jury … and tarnish all of these years of his legacy for nothing.”
Conyers first was elected to the U.S. House in 1964. He missed two roll call votes late Tuesday and was photographed by a passenger boarding a flight to Detroit from Washington.
“It’s very unfortunate to see him fight so long for so many people and to automatically have the allegations assumed to be true,” said his son, John Conyers III.
He noted, however: “And of course, with sexual assault, women are to be believed. But in this instance he has no history of this.”
Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that John Conyers had settled a complaint in 2015 from a woman staffer who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances.
BuzzFeed reported that Conyers’ office paid the woman over $27,000 in the confidential settlement. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately or requesting sexual favors.
A former scheduler filed a complaint earlier this year, but later dropped it. The Associated Press hasn’t released her name. And a third ex-staffer, Deanna Maher, said Tuesday that in 1997 Conyers undressed to his underwear in front of her and twice touched her leg inappropriately.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Conyers, who announced Sunday that he would step aside as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pressured Conyers behind the scenes to leave the chamber, according to a senior House aide, who spoke late Tuesday on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Also Tuesday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Conyers and explained to one of their founding members why he should resign, but stressed the decision was up to him, the senior House aide said.
On Wednesday, Rep. Kathleen Rice walked out of a Democratic Caucus meeting, saying the issue wasn’t being taken seriously.
Rice said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke only “very briefly” about sexual harassment and focused mostly on efforts by female members to combat it.
“But let’s talk about the big elephant in the room. That’s why I was done with the meeting,” Rice said.
“I don’t have time for conversations that are not real, that are not going to advance the ball for all of us here in Washington, and I for one am not going to stand silent even in the face of pressure from leadership,” she said.
Caucus chairman Rep. Joseph Crowley said at a news conference after the meeting that Caucus members “believe these are very, very, very serious allegations.”
But, he says, calling “for a resignation does not actually create the resignation” and that an ethics committee review could “bring this to the forefront.”
Three Democrats have suggested Conyers should resign: Rice, Rep. Earl Blumenhauer and Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Monica Conyers said her husband was spending time Wednesday with family and that she was sure he would return to Washington, eventually.
“I don’t know when,” she added. “He’s doing good. Right now, he’s just hanging out with his family.”
Conyers is among a number of prominent men in politics, entertainment and journalism who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of explosive allegations against former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Also last week, Republican Rep. Joe Barton apologized for a nude photograph leaked on social media.
The latest woman to come forward with claims of harassment by Conyers is Deanna Maher, who ran a Michigan office for Conyers from 1997 to 2005.
Maher told The Associated Press Tuesday that the first incident occurred in 1997 during a Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington.
Maher said while she was in the bedroom of a hotel suite, Conyers walked in, ordered sandwiches and undressed.
“I had my nightclothes on,” said Maher, who now lives in the Holland area in western Michigan. “I was just scared to death. I was married at the time. He sat in the bedroom taking his clothes off. I didn’t say anything and he didn’t say anything.”
Nothing happened between them, she added.
“He didn’t go naked. He was down to his skivvies,” Maher said. “He sat there eating sandwiches and then he stormed out and slammed the door. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself for being so stupid. I needed a job.”
“He didn’t put his hand on me, but the message was loud and clear,” she said.
Maher’s allegations against Conyers initially were reported by The Detroit News. She said there were other incidents involving unwanted touching in a car in 1998 and unwanted touching of her legs under her dress in 1999.
Conyers’ attorney, Arnold Reed, said Maher’s allegations are uncorroborated and Conyers denies wrongdoing.
“John Conyers has always said he’s not guilty of harassing these women,” Reed said. “Any woman or man that is violated, that’s unacceptable — completely unacceptable. By the same token, a person has a right to protest his innocence. This is what we call due process. Mr. Conyers wants to be cooperative and will be cooperative with any investigation.”