DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Longtime Michigan Rep. John Conyers is now acknowledging his office has settled a harassment complaint involving a former staffer but denies the allegations against him.
The Detroit Democrat said Tuesday in a statement that his office “resolved the allegations” … “for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment.”
Conyers,who answered the door at his Detroit home Tuesday morning, earlier told The Associated Press that he hadn’t settled any sexual harassment complaints with any staff members and knew nothing about any claims of inappropriate touching.
A spokesperson said in a statement that Conyers was under the impression The AP reporter was speaking Tuesday of “recent allegations of which he was unaware of and denied.”
Referring to allegations of sexual harassment and assault being made against politicians and others, the 88-year-old veteran lawmaker told the AP he’s “been looking at these things with amazement.”
BuzzFeed reports that Conyers’ office in 2015 paid a woman over $27,000 to settle a complaint under a confidentiality agreement after she alleges she rejected Conyer’s sexual advances and was fired. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately or requesting sexual favors.
Among those reacting to the claims is House Speaker Paul Ryan who called the allegations “deeply troubling.”
Ryan says the House is changing its procedures for handling charges of harassment and discrimination, which have been called too weak and cumbersome. The Wisconsin Republican says House employees “deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination.”
While the speaker’s statement didn’t mention Conyers’ name, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong confirmed it was directed at the Michigan Democrat.
Meanwhile, the top House Democrat says the House Ethics Committee must investigate “any credible allegation of sexual harassment” by Conyers.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement that lawmakers must have “zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse.”
Pelosi did not address whether Conyers should remain the top Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Pelosi weighed in after several other Democrats had already called for a probe.
As they learned of the allegations against Conyers, some supporters and constituents expressed shock.
This included Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopo, a long-time admirer of Conyers, who told WWJ Newsradio 950 he would be surprised and disappointed if the claims prove true.
“I envy the man — all he’s been through, all he’s done for our race, our country…You know, he’s just a great person as far as I’m concerned,” Yopp said.
Conyers entered the House in 1965 and is currently its longest-serving member.
© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.