Conyers confirms harassment settlement; ethics probe opens

DETROIT (AP) — John Conyers has dealt with various ethics investigations and a public corruption case that landed his wife in prison during a U.S. House career spanning more than five decades — longer than any other current member.

Allegations that the 88-year-old Michigan Democrat sexually harassed female staff members may be the toughest opponent yet for the party’s top member on the House Judiciary Committee.

“He’s not as sharp as he used to be,” said Adolph Mongo, a longtime follower of Detroit politics who has worked on mayoral campaigns. “This is a young person’s game now. You hate to see somebody who has put in 50 years … go out like this.”

Leaders of the House Ethics Committee announced Tuesday that the panel had begun an investigation into Conyers after receiving allegations of sexual harassment and age discrimination involving staff members as well as using “official resources for impermissible personal purposes.”

Conyers said he would fully cooperate.

News website BuzzFeed reported Monday night that Conyers’ office paid a woman more than $27,000 under a confidentiality agreement to settle a complaint in 2015 that she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances.

BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately — rubbing their legs and backs — or requesting sexual favors. One former staffer said one of her duties was “to keep a list of women that I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources.”

When questioned at his home Tuesday morning by The Associated Press, Conyers denied settling any harassment complaint and other allegations of inappropriate touching of staffers. The reporter repeated to Conyers the claims made in the BuzzFeed report.

Conyers’ office said in a statement that he was under the impression the AP reporter was speaking of “recent allegations of which he was unaware of and denied.”

“In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” Conyers said later Tuesday in his statement about the settlement. “My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation.