WASHINGTON – The House Ethics Committee launched a formal investigation into allegations that a senior Democratic lawmaker sexually harassed female aides and used office funds to settle a former staffer's claim she was fired after she rejected his advances.
Ethics Chairwoman Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and ranking member Theodore Deutch, D-Fla., announced the start of a probe into Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., 88, the longest-serving member of the House and top Democrat on the powerful Judiciary Committee.
"The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative John Conyers Jr. may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff, discriminated against certain staff on the basis of age, and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes," Brooks and Deutch said in a written statement.
"The Committee … has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding these allegations," they stated.
The investigation raises questions about whether Conyers will resign his prime Judiciary post. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did not address the question in a statement Tuesday calling for an ethics investigation into Conyers.
The probe began less than 24 hours after BuzzFeed reported a 2015 settlement between Conyers and an unnamed former employee over claims of sexual harassment. On Tuesday morning, Conyers initially denied he had settled sexual harassment claims when asked by an Associated Press reporter at his Detroit home. Later in the day, he reversed himself and acknowledged the settlement while emphasizing he never admitted fault in the case.
"I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so," Conyers said in a written statement.
"My office resolved the allegations – with an express denial of liability – to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That should not be lost in the narrative," he stated.
Conyers' spokeswoman, Shadawn Reddick-Smith, said Conyers originally denied the existence of a settlement because he was "under the impression the reporter was speaking of recent allegations of which he was unaware."