Attorney: Conyers ‘not going to be forced out of office’
U.S. Rep. John Conyers has no immediate plans to resign despite growing calls for the Detroit Democrat to step down amid sexual harassment allegations, his attorney said Wednesday.
“He’s not going to be forced out of office, and no one has told him he has to leave,” attorney Arnold Reed told The Detroit News.
“He has not indicated he’s going to resign at this point.”
Three House Democrats have called on him to step down, including Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York, Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.
Former U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland also called Wednesday for the Detroit Democrat to resign.
Reed said he met Wednesday with Conyers at the congressman’s home.
“We had a great talk. We talked about how he’s doing and how these allegations have affected his family,” Reed said. “The congressman will make any decision he feels is right in due course.”
The 88-year-old Conyers returned to Detroit on Tuesday night after several Congressional Black Caucus members reportedly encouraged him to resign amid an ethics probe into the harassment accusations and possible misuse of his office budget to pay out a settlement in 2015.
Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, has vehemently denied the accusations and said he would cooperate with an Ethic Committee investigation. He stepped down as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee on Sunday.
Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, stressed that the caucus itself has not urged Conyers to step down, and that it supports the ethics investigation.
“We are not urging John to resign. We’re not,” Richmond told reporters after the caucus met Wednesday.
“We think that is a decision – while the ethics investigation is going on – for him and his family and his constituents to make."
Richmond added that, “If these allegations are true, then they are serious, they are disturbing, and they are awful because we just do not tolerate harassment in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Reed also denied that Black Caucus colleagues urged Conyers to step down.
“If Mr. Conyers decides that he’s going to stay in office, if he’s going to do whatever, it’s going to be his decision, and he’s going to do what’s in the best interest of the American people and the people who have elected him,” Reed said.
The Detroit News first reported on Tuesday that former staffer Deanna Maher said Conyers sexually harassed her, including inappropriate touching, in three incidents spanning 1997 to 1999. Maher is the second former Conyers staffer to go public with accusations about the veteran lawmaker.
“Some people equate denying these allegations to shaming victims, but that’s their problem,” Reed said. “We’re not in the business of shaming anyone. We’re in the business of fighting these allegations tooth and nail.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat and member of the Black Caucus, said the caucus has “no tolerance” for any form of sexual harassment, but that everyone is entitled to due process.
“It hurts so much. How do you deal with someone who you’ve admired, someone who’s a friend – when good people do something wrong? In this case, John Conyers is denying it, so there has to be due process,” Lawrence said at the U.S. Capitol.
“There’s a lot of heavy hearts because he has been a man that served not only his constituents, served black Americans in this country, and he has been in Congress for so many years. But any allegation must be investigated, there must be due process and there has to be, ultimately, accountability.”
Conyers’ attorney also criticized House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who called Conyers an “icon” on a Sunday morning talk show but later released a statement saying that “no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment.”
“This is a desperate attempt to try to cover yourself and make yourself look good and try to convince the American public that you’re really concerned about these women who have these unsubstantiated allegations at the expense of my client,” Reed said.
Conyers missed a vote in the U.S. House on Wednesday that will require sexual and workplace harassment training for members of Congress and their staffs.
Democratic leaders in the House have said there will be accountability at the conclusion of the ethics probe and have not called on Conyers to resign.
“Calling for the resignation of someone does not actually create the resignation,” New York Rep. Joseph Crowley, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, told reporters at the Capitol.
“The reality is we have a process in place, and we’re calling for an expedited process of the Ethics Committee to bring this to the forefront, so there can be as much transparency as possible, and recognizing the rights of those bring these very serious allegations before Mr. Conyers.”
He added, “I believe at the end of the day, the right thing will be done.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted Congress is not applying a different standard for its members than in other industries where high-profile men in Hollywood and the media have been forced to depart swiftly.
“It’s not a different standard,” Ryan said when asked about Conyers at a Wednesday press briefing.
“I will leave it up to him to decide what he wants to do. I think he made the right decision in stepping down from his leadership position.”
Monica Conyers, the congressman’s wife, confronted reporters outside of their Detroit home Wednesday morning, questioning whether reporters would “go and stalk white people’s houses,” according to WDIV (Channel 4).
According to video captured by the TV station, Monica Conyers told the staked-out reports to go to his office.
His son said earlier that it’s disconcerting to see how his father is being treated in the wake of the allegations.
John Conyers III spoke to reporters early Wednesday outside his family’s Detroit home, saying it’s “very unfortunate to see him fight so long for so many people and to automatically have the allegations assumed to be true.”
Conyers’ son noted that “with sexual assault, women are to be believed.”
Conyers himself did not address the media or speak publicly Wednesday about the allegations against him.
Former U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican who chaired the House Committee on Administration through 2016, said she repeatedly refused to approve sexual harassment settlements recommended by the Office of Compliance, which handles harassment complaints.
The rejected payments included a roughly $27,000 proposal consistent with payments Conyers made to his former staffer through his office budget, she said Wednesday.
Miller told The Detroit News she cannot be sure it was the Conyers’ settlement that she rejected because legislators are granted anonymity to keep the process from becoming political.
The Office of Compliance recommended two or three sexual harassment settlements during the four years she chaired the committee, Miller said. She does not recall ever approving one.
“I just said: ‘You have got to be kidding,’” Miller said. “We’re going to take taxpayer dollars to protect some member of Congress who’s acting like a darned dog? Sorry, it’s not happening.”
Miller of Harrison Township retired from Congress last year and now serves as Macomb County public works commissioner.
She thinks the Ethics Committee investigating Conyers will focus on the fact he used his official congressional allowance to fund the settlement.
“It’s essentially your budget as a member of Congress,” she said, noting the Member Representational Allowance is typically used to pay staff salaries, rent for district offices or other related expenses.
“The MRA is not set up to pay sexual harassment claims, and I think that’s what the Ethics Committee is looking at.”
Conyers’ attorney downplayed the settlement, which he said House attorneys approved.
“The congressman went through the proper channels. He consulted attorneys. The attorneys indicated this was a proper mechanism to use, and that’s what happened,” Reed said.
The allegations against Conyers have prompted some members of Congress to call for ending “secret settlements” using taxpayer dollars, which are recommended by the Office of Compliance.
“I think the process needs to be improved, obviously,” Miller said.
She declined to join calls for his resignation, noting she is busy “trying to fix sewers” in Macomb County.
But she is encouraged by the national trend of women coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment, whether it is in Congress, the board room or the newsroom.
“You’ve got something happening here that is transformational, I think, in our society, which I personally believe is a healthy thing and will accrue positively generationally for women,” Miller said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report