The era of women (and men) speaking out against sexual harassment began as a trickle when several powerful Hollywood actresses exposed the monster Harvey Weinstein, a former movie producing mogul, earlier this year. And then the floodgates were eventually blasted open and began gushing in torrents over the American landscape after one powerful movie figure and corporate executive and comedian and politician and respected journalist after another were outed by extremely exasperated (and damaged) victims.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, is but the latest to be embroiled in the toxic, and often career-killing, accusation of sexual harassment. The longtime, legendary Detroit legislator announced he is stepping down from his post as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee amid the news of an investigation into the allegations against him.
“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 a statement posted on Twitter by reporters from several news outlets.
Conyers has confirmed reaching a $27,000 settlement with an ex-staffer who said she was fired for resisting his sexual advances, but denied any wrongdoing.
“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,” he said.
Despite his vehement denials of wrongdoing, he said he could “not in good conscience allow these charges to undermine my colleagues in the Democratic caucus” by keeping the committee post.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she supports Conyers and his decision and the decision to relinquish his leadership position.
“No matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment,” she said in a tweet Sunday. “Zero tolerance means consequences. I have asked for an ethics investigation, and as that investigation continues, Congressman Conyers has agreed to step aside as Ranking Member.,”
On Sunday, Pelosi met with the media and conveyed that Conyers, who is in his 27th term, deserves “due process” before facing consequences over the accusations of sexual harassment.
“We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused – was it one accusation? Is it two?” Pelosi said. “John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women.”
Pelosi said repeatedly that Conyers would “do the right thing.”
“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.”
Pelosi said an Ethics Committee probe would determine the veracity of the allegations.
“I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward,” Pelosi said. “Women are saying zero tolerance, no more, and we’re going to speak out on it. This is so wholesome, so refreshing, so different,” she said.