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Conyers retires after 53 years amid sexual harassment claims

By KATHLEEN GRAY and TODD SPANGLER

Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — Facing a growing number of sexual harassment claims and a rising chorus of voices demanding he resign, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., Tuesday retired from the seat he had held for more than five decades, a swift and crushing fall from grace for a civil rights icon and the longest-serving active member of Congress.

Interviewed by phone on WPZR-FM Tuesday morning, Conyers, 88, announced his immediate retirement, even as he continued to fight the allegations against him raised by no fewer than six former female employees.

“They’re not accurate, they’re not true and they’re something I can’t explain where they came from,” Conyers said of the accusations, adding that his legacy “can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now.”

“This, too, shall pass,” he said, adding that he would endorse his son, John III, to replace him in Congress and that he appreciated the “incredible, undiminished support I’ve received across the years from my supporters, not only from my district but across the country as well.”

Conyers made his exit after nearly 53 years as a fixture on Capitol Hill, the longest-serving African-American in congressional history and one who rose to become the first black chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.

In Washington, few commented on his departure at all.

In a statement by Conyers read on the floor of the U.S. House by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, he said, “I vehemently deny any and all allegations of harassment or dishonor, but I recognize that in this present environment, due process will not be afforded to me.” His resignation was noted in the House record shortly before 3 p.m. EST.

In Washington, there was initially some confusion over Conyers’ actions.

Even though Conyers announced his retirement about 10:15 a.m. and Jackson Lee read his statement about 11 a.m., it wasn’t until midafternoon when House Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder were all informed of the decision, making it final.

By 3 p.m., the situation was sorted out. Ryan’s and Pelosi’s offices had received a signed letter from Conyers saying he had “made the decision to retire … effective today” and it was read into the House record. Ryan’s spokesman also said the speaker’s office had received a copy of a signed letter sent by the congressman to the governor finalizing his departure from Congress.

Snyder’s spokeswoman, Anna Heaton, confirmed receipt of the letter, adding that the date of the special election to fill the seat for the remainder of Conyers’ 27th two-year term was not immediately set.

At least two people with the last name of Conyers — John III and Conyers’ grand-nephew, Ian, a state senator, may bid for the seat, however.

Conyers made his decision to quit nearly two weeks to the day after an article on BuzzFeed.com detailed a secret settlement of more than $27,000 with a former staffer who accused him of making sexual advances toward her and paying her out of funds from his taxpayer-supported office.

Within days, several other women came forward with accusations against Conyers, who, despite his express denials that he harassed anyone, saw House leaders and members of his own party abandon him, with three of the four Democrats in the Michigan delegation calling for him to resign last Thursday.

The House Ethics Committee — with authority to recommend any action from censure or expulsion to doing nothing — also launched an investigation against Conyers, with the nation’s political, entertainment and media worlds being rocked with allegations of sexual harassment by powerful men including movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, TV news anchors Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

That committee probe is likely now at an end with Conyers’ departure, however, as the panel only has jurisdiction over sitting members of Congress.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

 

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