DETROIT (WWJ/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-Calif., told reporters.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
Detroit-area attorney Arnold Reed, who represents Congressman Conyers, questioned Brown’s credibility
“Essentially you have an individual that accepting $1,500, $2,000 a year for harassment that was so bad, that was so pervasive that it caused her mental problems and mental issues — and she stayed on for 11 years,” Reed said, at a news conference Thursday. “It’s fundamentally in-congruent to anybody who has suffered as much as she has suffered and to accept a settlement of that amount.”
“She had an opportunity 15 years ago to come out and she didn’t. But she is jumping on the bandwagon now,” Reed added. “When you accept $20-some thousand for the sheer hell you claim you;ve been through, that is a testament to whether or not her veracity is where it should be with these allegations.”
Some fellow Democrats are pushing Conyers to resign, but Reed maintains 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.”
As for another accuser, Deanna Maher, Reed said said she simply is not telling the truth.
“She lied to the FBI and now she’s calling the FBI a liar. She says that they were going down the freeway, driving erratically and the congressman was groping her, but then she came to live in this (Conyers) house,” Reed said.
“She came to live in this house as a nanny and take care of one of his young sons. But at the time supposedly she says she was taking care of him, he was in boarding school. Now, unless you’re Superwoman and can put a cape on and fly from here to Oklahoma, that would be pretty difficult, wouldn’t it? That’s exactly right.”
Reed later told reporters that his client’s next move is not up to Nancy Pelosi.
“Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave. That decision will be completely up to the congressman. He’s not thought about that, he’s thinking about his health, he’s thinking about gettting well. That is the main focus of the family,” he said. “He is not going to be pressured by Nanci Pelosi or anyone else to step down.”
“At the end of the day, the congressman will rise and fall on his own merits,” Reed said. “He doesn’t need to go chasing Marion Brown or anyone else out here trying to prove that he didn’t sexually harass anybody. He doesn’t operate like that.”
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.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Conyers, and Reed said he will cooperate with any investigation.
© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.