NYPOST WASHINGTON — Rep. John Conyers will step aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee pending an investigation into allegations he sexually harassed staffers.
In a statement released through Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office on Sunday, Conyers said he realized that he may “undermine” the committee’s work if he stays at the helm.
“I have come to believe that my presence as Ranking Member on the Committee would not serve these efforts while the Ethics Committee investigation is pending,” the 88-year-old Detroit politician said in the statement.
“I cannot in good conscience allow these charges to undermine my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus, and my friends on both sides of the aisle in the Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives.”
Pelosi’s reaction to the Conyers mess evolved throughout Sunday, starting with her calling the veteran congressman an “icon in our country” who “deserves due process” on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“He will do the right thing in terms of what he knows about his situation, that he’s entitled to due process, but women are entitled to due process as well,” she said, adding, “We are talking about what we have heard. I have asked the Ethics Committee to look into that. He has said he is open, he will cooperate.
She wouldn’t say whether she believed Conyers’ accusers.
But after Conyers’ anouncement, Pelosi toughened her stance.
“Zero tolerance means consequences,” Pelosi said. “Any credible accusation must be reviewed by the Ethics Committee expeditiously. We are at a watershed moment on this issue, and no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment.”
BuzzFeed last week reported on the contents of a secret $27,000 settlement Conyers paid with taxpayer funds to a former staffer who said she was fired for rejecting his sexual advances.
Conyers has admitted to the payment but denied any wrongdoing.
“I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger,” Conyers said, referring to the settlement papers obtained by Mike Cernovich and passed along to the news web site. “I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics.”
With Conyers stepping aside, the next most senior Democrat — New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler — will become acting ranking member of the powerful committee.
“Even under these unfortunate circumstances, the important work of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee must move forward,” Nadler said in a Sunday statement. “I will do everything in my power to continue to press on the important issues facing our committee, including criminal justice reform, workplace equality, and holding the Trump Administration accountable.”
Nadler added: “Ranking Member Conyers has a 50 year legacy of advancing the cause of justice, and my job moving forward is to continue that critical work.”
Conyers is the longest serving House member.
New York Rep. Kathleen Rice was the first House Democrat last week to call for Conyers’ resignation, and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) said Conyers should at least give up his perch as the House panel’s ranking member, pending the outcome of the ethics probe.