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John Conyers Steps Down From Judiciary Committee Role Amid Sexual Misconduct Claims

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month. On Sunday, Conyers announced he would be stepping down from his ranking position on the committee — though he continued to deny sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Drew Angerer
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Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month. On Sunday, Conyers announced he would be stepping down from his ranking position on the committee — though he continued to deny sexual misconduct allegations against him.

Updated at 4:34 p.m. ET

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has announced he is stepping down as ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers conveyed the news in a statement released Sunday by the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The announcement comes roughly a week after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced publicly against the longest-serving member of the House. Those allegations were lodged by a former female employee, who had made a wrongful dismissal complaint against him that was settled two years ago.

The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into the incident. Conyers continues to deny the allegations of wrongdoing and says he has no intention of resigning his seat in the House.

"After careful consideration and In light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me, I have notified the Democratic Leader of my request to step aside as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee during the investigation of these matters," Conyers said in the statement.

"I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics."

Last week, NPR's Susan Davis explained the allegations swirling around Conyers:

"Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., settled a wrongful dismissal complaint two years ago with a former female employee who alleged Conyers made repeated sexual advances toward female staff, according to BuzzFeed. ...

"Buzzfeed obtained signed affidavits, three of which are notarized and verified the documents with four people involved in the matter who confirmed their authenticity. The woman was paid over $27,000 as part of a confidentiality agreement. The money came out of Conyers' office budget, which is taxpayer-funded."

Speaking earlier Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, Pelosi had refrained from calling for Conyers' outright resignation, saying the longtime congressman is an "icon in our country" and asking for patience for his investigation to unfold.

"He will do the right thing in terms of what he knows about his situation," she said. "He's entitled to due process, but women are entitled to due process, as well."

According to a senior Democratic aide, Pelosi had spent the last few days working with Conyers and other Congressional Black Caucus members on how to "lay groundwork for him to step aside gracefully."

Later Sunday in a tweeted statement, Pelosi added: "Zero tolerance means consequences."

"As a woman and mother of four daughters, I partcularly take any accusation of sexual harassment very seriously," she said. "Any credible accusation must be reviewed by the Ethics Committee expeditiously. We are at a watershed moment on this issue, and no matter how great an individual's legacy, it is not license for harassment."

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have faced sexual misconduct allegations in recent weeks.

Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who has been accused of inappropriately touching several women, has been dealing with a Senate ethics investigation of his own. On Thursday, Franken issued an apology without confirming the most recent allegations lodged against him.

"I'm a warm person; I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many. Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that," Franken said.

"I feel terribly that I've made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again," he added. "And let me say again to Minnesotans that I'm sorry for putting them through this and I'm committed to regaining their trust."

On Sunday, Franken told Minnesota Public Radio News he has not considered resigning, however.

Meanwhile, Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, continues to vehemently deny the allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Moore has hemorrhaged support from within his own national party in recent weeks, though one prominent Republican appears to be sticking by him: President Trump.

"Liberal Jones would be BAD!" Trump tweeted Sunday about Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. And prior to leaving the White House for Thanksgiving last week, Trump, who faces sexual misconduct allegations of his own, told reporters Moore "totally denies" sexually assaulting multiple teenagers when Moore was in his 30s.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.