WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The top Democrat in the House on Thursday called on Michigan Rep. John Conyers to resign in the face of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against the longest-serving member of the House.
“The allegations against Congressman Conyers, as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing and very credible. It’s very sad,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) told reporters. “The very brave women who have come forward are owed justice.”
Pelosi said she prayed for the 88-year-old Democratic lawmaker, who was hospitalized in Detroit, and his family. “However,” she said, “Congressman Conyers should resign.”
“It’s not up to Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell him the congressman to leave,” Conyers’ attorney Arnold Reed said. “That decision will be completely up to the congressman.”
“There are, to my count, five of these allegations against Al Franken. There are four, three or four, against the congressman. At the end of the day, I expect Nancy Pelosi will have to explain what is the difference between Al Franken and John Conyers,” Reed said.
Conyers, meanwhile, was in a Detroit hospital, political consultant and family friend Sam Riddle told The Associated Press. Conyers was taken to the hospital after feeling chest pains, lightheaded, short of breath and dizziness, according to Reed.
The dramatic call from Pelosi came just hours after a former aide publicly accused him of sexual harassment, telling NBC’s “Today” show that she was fired for rejecting advances from Conyers.
Marion Brown, 61, said the congressman propositioned her for sex multiple times over more than a decade. Brown initially told her story to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, saying she’d settled a complaint in 2015 with Conyers over the allegations, according to her attorney.
“It was sexual harassment… violating my body,” Brown said Thursday. “Propositioning me. Inviting me to hotels with the guise of discussing business and then propositioning me… for sex.”
Conyers has faced growing demands from other House Democrats to step down, but he has insisted on his innocence. The lawmaker gave up his seat as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee this past Sunday while holding onto his congressional seat.
House Speaker Paul Ryan also called on Conyers to resign.
“No-one should have to go through something like that, let alone here in Congress. Yes I think he should resign, and I think he should resign immediately. I’ve just been briefed on the torrent of allegations and I think he should,” Ryan said.
“Sexual harassment is wrong and should be eliminated, that is the congressman’s view,” Conyers’ spokesman said. “Congress works differently. You can’t just fire somebody. Corporate America and the Matt Lauer situation are apples and oranges.”
Pelosi on Sunday had called Conyers an icon and argued for due process of an Ethics Committee investigation. On Thursday, she said, “zero tolerance means consequences – for everyone. No matter how great the legacy, it’s not licensed to harass or discriminate. In fact, it makes it even more disappointing.”
A wave of allegations against titans of entertainment, media and sports has resulted in swift punishment. In Congress, however, two lawmakers facing accusations — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Conyers — have remained in their jobs.
Brown broke a confidentiality agreement to tell her story to “Today,” saying she stayed on the job because she needed to support her family and found the work rewarding. The AP left messages seeking comment from Conyers’ lawyer, who has said the congressman will fight the misconduct allegations.
BuzzFeed News reported last week that Conyers had settled a complaint two years ago for $27,000 with a female staffer who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances. BuzzFeed didn’t disclose her name in its initial report and said the settlement was confidential.
Brown’s lawyer, Lisa Bloom, confirmed to the AP after the NBC interview aired that Brown was that former employee. She said Brown worked for Conyers in a variety of capacities from 2003 until 2014, mostly in the Detroit district office.
Brown said she was taking a risk by violating the confidentiality agreement. She said she spoke out to say she’s “not a liar” and to request an apology from Conyers. She said she reported some allegations to Conyers’ chief of staff in Detroit, but nothing happened.
Some fellow Democrats are pushing Conyers to resign, but Reed told the AP on Wednesday that Conyers is innocent and has no plans to step down. Anyone making inappropriate touching or other claims against the longest-serving member of the House should be prepared to back them up, he added.
“He’s going to fight these allegations tooth and nail if he has to with evidence, with documentation, witnesses, whatever he has to do,” Reed said. “And the accusers will have to prove up their case.”
A former scheduler filed a complaint earlier this year, but later dropped it. The AP 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, and Reed said he will cooperate with any investigation.
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.
Besides Pelosi, three other Democratic House members have publicly suggested Conyers should resign: Kathleen Rice, Earl Blumenhauer and Pramila Jayapal.
Meantime, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) announced Thursday that he is not running for reelection, CBS2’s Alice gainer reported. His announcement came after a nude photo of him surfaced online earlier this month.
Last week, Barton apologized for not using better judgment.
Also Thursday, the Senate Ethics panel announced it had opened preliminary inquiry into Franken amid the allegations against him.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)