Attorney: Conyers won’t be ‘pressured’ by Pelosi

Melissa Nann Burke, and Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called on U.S. Rep. John Conyers to resign in the wake of what Pelosi called “very credible” accusations of sexual misconduct.

But Conyers’ attorney said the 88-year-old congressman is not going to be “pressured” by Pelosi or anyone else to step down.

“Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave,” attorney Arnold Reed said at a Thursday press conference outside Conyers’ home in Detroit.

Attorney Arnold Reed speaks to the press in front of Congressman John Conyers' Detroit home about his client on November 30.

“That decision will be completely up to the congressman. He’s not thought about that.”

The main concern is for the health of the congressman, who was hospitalized Wednesday after symptoms of chest pains, dizziness and shortness of breath, Reed said.

Three Michigan Democrats in Congress — Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Sandy Levin of Royal Oak — joined the resignation calls on Thursday afternoon. Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland earlier had urged that he step down.

“No one likes to believe that a person that they’ve worked with and that they respect can abuse their power and harass women like this, but there can be no toleration for it,” Kildee said on CNN. “Unfortunately, as painful as it is, I have to conclude Congressman Conyers should resign.”

Conyers hospitalized for stress, friend says

Ryan told reporters earlier Thursday he had been briefed on the “torrent” of allegations against Conyers and heard what Conyers accuser Marion Brown said on NBC on Thursday.

“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,” said Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican.

Pelosi, the California Democrat, called the allegations against Conyers “serious, disappointing and very credible.”

“Congressman Conyers should resign,” Pelosi said at a Thursday press conference, noting the new accusations revealed this week. “The brave women who came forward are owed justice,” she said.

The minority leader said she prayed for Conyers and his family and wished them well. Conyers has vehemently denied the allegations against him, something that Reed reiterated Thursday.

“As dean, Congressman Conyers has served our Congress for more than five decades and shaped some of the most consequential legislation of the last half century,” Pelosi said.

“However, zero tolerance means consequences for everyone. No matter how great, the legacy is no license to harass or discriminate. In fact, it makes it even more disappointing.”

Asked whether she had communicated to Conyers that he should resign, Pelosi told a reporter, “I’m saying it to you right now.”

She said the “courage” of the women coming forward on Capitol Hill is making a “big difference.”

Another accuser goes public

The resignation demands came after Conyers’ second former staffer went public Thursday and accused Conyers of sexual harassment, breaking a confidentiality agreement she signed as part of a settlement with the Detroit Democrat in 2015.

“I felt it was worth the risk to stand up for all the women in the workforce that are voiceless. Ordinary women like me,” Marion Brown said during a “Today Show” interview on NBC.

Brown said Conyers “touched me in different ways” over the years she worked for him and “violated my body.”

Marion Brown

In one instance, she said, Conyers invited her 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.”

Conyers settled a complaint with Brown in 2015 after she claimed she was fired for refusing his sexual advances. He paid her roughly $27,000 through his congressional office budget but, as part of the settlement, denied her allegations.

Brown supposedly endured harassment “so pervasive that it caused her mental problems and mental issues, and she stayed on for 11 years? Eleven years? If you do the math, it breaks down to less than $2,000 a year,” Reed said.

“Fundamentally incongruous of anybody who has suffered as much as she has suffered and to accept a settlement of that amount. That bespeaks right along to her credibility. She had an opportunity 15 years ago to come out and she didn’t. But she is jumping on the bandwagon now.”

Conyers’ attorney said there are five sexual harassment allegations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and four against Conyers.

“At the end of the day, Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain, what is the discernible difference between Al Franken and John Conyers? That is a question that she is going to have to answer,” Reed said.

“Again, he is not going to be pressured by Nancy Pelosi or anyone else to step down. The decision will be made my Congressman Conyers as to what his next course is. That will not be today. That will not be tomorrow. The congressman again is concerned about his health just as his family is concerned with his health.”

Other harassment accusations

Brown becomes the second former Conyers staffer to go public and accuse the veteran lawmaker of making unwanted sexual advances toward her. Deanna Maher, who worked for him from 1997 to 2005, first told The Detroit News this week that Conyers made unwanted advances toward her three times.

Conyers’ accuser strikes back at critics

Allegations by other unnamed accusers, reported first by BuzzFeed, have prompted a congressional ethics investigation of the dean of the U.S. House of Representatives. Conyers on Sunday stepped aside as the the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Through his attorney, Conyers has denied allegations by the other women that have surfaced since Buzzfeed News first reported on the settlement on Nov. 20.

Pelosi had been criticized for not confronting more aggressively allegations of sexual misconduct against Conyers.

The House minority leader called Conyers “an icon” last weekend on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and questioned his accusers’ accounts – some of whom had not publicly spoken out at the time – and said Conyers has “done a great deal to protect women.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, told reporters Wednesday that Pelosi’s remarks on Sunday “set women back and — quite frankly, our party back — decades,” according to POLITICO.

Pelosi followed up her “Meet the Press” comments Sunday with a statement saying that “no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment.” She also supports eliminating the nondisclosure agreements that have kept some victims from speaking out.

Brown, 61, worked for Conyers for more than a decade, according to staffing records on the Legistorm website. She did not quit, she said, because she still found enjoyment in her job and needed the money as a single mother of four children.

When Brown refused to satisfy him sexually, “he asked me to find other people that would,” she said.

“It got worse” when Conyers’ wife, Monica Conyers, went to prison on bribery charges in 2010, she said. “I would get phone calls asking for me to come to hotels.”

Brown said she reported her claims to her boss in Conyers’ Detroit office but did not see any changes in the congressman’s behavior.

Reed again denied all claims against Conyers, saying the congressman has not touched anyone inappropriately or made any sexual advances.

“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.”

Brown acknowledged she is taking a risk by breaking her confidentiality agreement in her 2015 settlement but said she felt compelled to give voice to the allegations she made at the time.

“I want everyone to know it was serious,” she said. “I did it three years ago, and Congressman Conyers came out and basically called me a liar. So I’m here to say I’m not a liar.”

Brown was joined by her attorney, Lisa Bloom, who on Monday called on the congressional Office of Compliance, which handles harassment complaints, to release her client from the confidentiality agreement.

After reaching a settlement with Brown, Conyers put her back on his payroll in mid-2015, paying her $27,111.74 between June 16 and Sept. 15, according salary data compiled by Legistorm.

Supporter stands by Conyers

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 told The Detroit News on Wednesday.

Miller said she cannot be sure it was the Conyers’ settlement that she rejected because legislators are granted anonymity to keep the process from becoming political. She now is Macomb County public works commissioner.

While Conyers remained away from his home Thursday, one longtime acquaintance stopped by to show support.

Larry Jamison, 83, said he has known Conyers since the 1960s after working with his brother. The limo service owner and Korean War veteran said he also drove the lawmaker around the city and attended the same church.

Based on those encounters and his public service, Jamison doubted the harassment allegations.

“John was the perfect gentleman,” he said while standing outside Conyers’ front gate. “I think this is something that's crazy.:

Still, Jamison thought retiring might be an option: “He should think about it for his health’s sake.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed