(WASHINGTON) — Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is facing a new ethics investigation after denying a report on Tuesday that alleges he sexually harassed a female aide, leading to a five-figure payout funded by taxpayers.
“The committee is aware of public allegations that Representative John Conyers, Jr. may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff, discriminated against certain staff on the basis of age, and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes,” Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the chair and ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, announced Tuesday. “The committee … has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding these allegations.”
Conyers, the longest-serving current member in the House of Representatives, said in a statement that he “expressly and vehemently” denies the allegations, which were first reported by Buzzfeed.
On Monday, Buzzfeed published a report that said Conyers’ office paid a female aide more than $27,000 as part of a confidentiality agreement to settle a complaint.
In his statement, Conyers, 88, said that his office “resolved the allegations,” though with an “express denial of liability, in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation.”
“The resolution was not for millions of dollars, but rather for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment,” Conyers said.
Prior to the ethics committee’s announcement, several Democrats demanded an investigation, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. — two of Conyers’ colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee — as well as Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
“As members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives and to ensure a climate of dignity and respect, with zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “As I have said before, any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the ethics committee.”
Speier called into question the amount of money that is used to settle sexual harassment cases, and whether members have used their taxpayer-funded office budgets “to make settlements under the guise of severance payments.”
“If this is true, the amount of taxpayer money used to settle these cases is even higher than the number that’s been provided by the Office of Compliance,” she said.
Lofgren released her own statement on the allegations, writing, “The reports about Congressman Conyers are as serious as they get. The Committee on Ethics should take up this matter immediately with a goal of promptly assessing the validity of the news account. This reported behavior cannot be tolerated in the House of Representatives or anywhere else.”
Conyers pledged to “fully cooperate with an investigation” before the committee’s announcement Tuesday afternoon.
“The process must be fair to both the employee and the accused. The current media environment is bringing a much-needed focus to the important issue of preventing harassment in workplaces across the country,” he said. “However, equally important to keep in mind in this particular moment is the principle of due process and that those accused of wrongdoing are presumed innocent unless and until an investigation establishes otherwise. In our country, we strive to honor this fundamental principle that all are entitled to due process.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the Conyers report “extremely troubling,” and pointed to an ongoing review of “all policies and procedures related to workplace harassment and discrimination.”
“People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination,” Ryan stated.
Although Buzzfeed reports that the settlement was paid during John Boehner’s tenure as House speaker, Boehner spokesman Dave Schnittger said the Ohio Republican was not aware of the Conyers settlement.
“Speaker Boehner was not aware of this,” Schnittger said, adding that he asked Boehner about it on Tuesday.
Pelosi said she was not aware of the settlement.
“The current process includes the signing of non-disclosure agreements by the parties involved. Congresswoman Jackie Speier has introduced legislation that will provide much-needed transparency on these agreements and make other critical reforms,” Pelosi said in a statement. “I strongly support her efforts.”
A spokesman did not immediately say whether Pelosi supports stripping Conyers of his post as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
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