Embattled U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., the longest-serving current member of Congress, retired effective Tuesday, rather than seek re-election amid allegations that he sexually harassed staffers.
“I am retiring today,” Conyers said, in what is effectively a resignation. “I want everyone to know how much I appreciate the support that — the incredible, undiminished support I’ve received across the years from my supporters, not only in my district but across the country, as well.”
Conyers has been in the U.S. House for 53 years – the longest-serving African-American in history.
The 88-year-old lawmaker made the announcement Tuesday morning during a disjointed phone interview on “The Mildred Gaddis Show,” 102.7 FM, in which he said the accusations against him will “absolutely not” affect his legacy.
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in anyway by what we’re going through now. This too shall pass. I want you to know that my legacy will continue through my children,” Conyers said.
He then endorsed his eldest son, John Conyers III, to succeed him in Congress.
“We’re all working together to make this country a better — to make equality and justice more available for everyone,” he said.
Conyers’ great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, has said he is also planning to run for the seat representing Michigan’s 13th District.
Conyers previously relinquished his high-profile position as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee pending the outcome of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee of sexual harassment accusations.
His resignation is likely to end the ethics probe into Conyers, as the panel only has jurisdiction over current members of the House.
For example, the committee last year closed its investigation into Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pennsylvania, after he resigned. Fattah was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for federal corruption crimes.
John Conyers made his announcement from a hospital bed in Detroit, where he was admitted last week with symptoms of chest pain and dizziness.
The dean of the U.S. House reiterated Tuesday that he denies claims he mistreated staffers, saying the allegations are “not accurate, not true and I think they are something I can’t explain where they came from.”
“We take these in stride,” Conyers said. “Look, this goes with the issue of politics, the game of politics, which we’re in. We take what happens, we deal with it, we pass on and move forward as we keep going — trying to make as much as we can of this tremendous opportunity that’s been given to me for so long.”
Conyers is the first congressman to step down from his seat since October when Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy, an anti-abortion Republican, resigned following allegations that he encouraged his girlfriend to end a pregnancy.
His departure halfway through his 27th term will likely trigger a special election in the district. He will collect a pension, though the exact details of his retirement benefits are unclear.
Gov. Rick Snyder received Conyers’ official resignation letter Tuesday afternoon and “will now review a potential date for a special election for the 13th Congressional District,” spokesman Ari Adler said on Twitter.
The controversy began in November when Buzzfeed reported Conyers had settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who had accused him of sexual harassment.
Calls for Conyers’ departure intensified last week as two accusers went public detailing his alleged misconduct.
The Detroit News reported last week that former staffer Deanna Maher said Conyers sexually harassed her, including inappropriate touching, in three incidents spanning 1997 to 1999.
Another Conyers staffer, Marion Brown, broke a confidentiality agreement to go on NBC’s “Today Show” on Thursday to describe what led her to file a complaint against her boss in 2014, alleging she was fired for refusing his sexual advances.
Another former staffer filed a lawsuit in federal court this year alleging sexual harassment by Conyers but later withdrew the complaint to protect the congressman’s reputation.
Elisa Grubbs, who said she worked for Conyers from 2001-13, claimed she was also touched by him inappropriately and that he appeared naked before her.
And attorney Melanie Sloan, whom Conyers hired in 1995 as counsel to the Judiciary Committee, has said the congressman did not sexually harass her but acted inappropriately and abusively.
Late Tuesday, Brown’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, blasted Conyers’ decision to resign and released an affidavit from another woman claiming Conyers touched her inappropriately.
“Congressman Conyers suddenly ‘retired’ today but the real reason was to avoid the upcoming Ethics Committee investigation into the multiple claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against him that we’ve been pushing for,” Bloom said in a statement.
“Ironically, he claimed he could not get ‘due process,’ but my client Marion Brown and the other accusers wanted the opportunity to testify before the committee and tell their stories, and Mr. Conyers could have also testified and called witnesses on his behalf. That’s what due process is. Yet he resigned to kill that hearing.”
In the newest affidavit, Delores Lyons — who said she volunteered for Conyers from 2010 to 2014 — alleges three instances in which Conyers fondled her, including an incident in which he guided her hand onto his genitals while she was driving.
Asked about the Lyons affidavit, Conyers’ attorney, Arnold Reed, said Tuesday night the allegations should be viewed with a “suspicious eye” because Bloom “engages in nothing but tomfoolery and it is not worthy of any further response.”
On Monday, supporters held a rally in Detroit to call for Conyers to receive “due process” and for critics to stop pressuring him to step down.
The leaders of both parties in the House and four members of the Michigan delegation, among others, had urged Conyers to depart.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Conyers should go, with Pelosi calling the women’s claims “very credible.”
“The allegations against Congressman Conyers, as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing and very credible. It’s very sad,” Pelosi said Thursday. “Congressman Conyers should resign.”
Ryan referred to the “torrent” of allegations against Conyers and to Brown’s appearance on the “Today” show.
“No one should have to go through something like that, let alone here in Congress. Yes, I think he should resign. I think he should resign immediately,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Sandy Levin of Royal Oak had also urged the veteran lawmaker to step down.
The highest-ranked African-American in the House, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, also called on Conyers to resign.
Launching its inquiry last month, the ethics panel said it was aware of allegations that Conyers might have sexually harassed employees, discriminated against staffers based on age or used official resources for “impermissible” personal use.
The committee has agreed to call Brown to testify, her attorney Bloom said, but she has asked that the panel open the hearing to the public — something the committee doesn’t typically do. Bloom indicated late Monday that a hearing date has yet to be scheduled.
The accusations against Conyers first surfaced the Monday before Thanksgiving with news that Conyers settled the complaint with Brown in 2015.
He paid Brown roughly $27,000 through his congressional office budget but, as part of the settlement, denied her allegations.
Brown told NBC that Conyers “touched me in different ways” over the years she worked for him and had “violated my body.” In one instance, Conyers invited Brown to a hotel room in Chicago under the guise of discussing business but was in his underwear when she arrived.
“He asked me to satisfy him sexually,” Brown said. “He pointed to areas of, genital areas of his body and asked me to, you know, touch it.”
Brown’s case has prompted more members of Congress to call for ending secret settlements using taxpayer dollars and reform the chamber’s onerous process for filing workplace complaints against members or staffers.
Asked if the settlements should be opened, Conyers told The Mildred Gaddis Show that there should be “a complete disclosure to reveal to all the citizens of the country of what the federal legislators are doing or not doing, and any cost that may have been incurred as a result of that.”
The House Administration Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on the sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill.