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Conyers announces retirement amid growing sexual harassment claims

The Congress member also endorsed his son in the race for his seat.

House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing On U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Embattled Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced on Tuesday that he is retiring from Congress. Facing mounting claims of sexual misconduct and harassment from former female staffers, Conyers told a local radio host he will retire immediately.

Conyers also said he will endorse his son John Conyers III in the race for his seat. In a twist, Conyers’s grandnephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, has also announced plans to run for that seat. Ian Conyers first broke the news that his uncle was stepping down to the New York Times earlier on Tuesday.

While the elder Conyers told Detroit radio host Mildred Gaddis that the allegations against him aren’t true, he added it was time to step down and clear the path for his son to run.

"My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now. This too shall pass. … My legacy will continue through my children," Conyers said.

He also continued to deny the allegations that have been made against him.

“They're not accurate, they're not true and they're something I can't explain where they came from,” Conyers said.

Conyers, 88, is the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 1964. Until last week, he had served as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and he is one of the founding members of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus. He has been absent from Capitol Hill for the past few weeks, flying back to his home state of Michigan. He was recently treated at a local hospital for a “stress-related illness,” a family spokesperson told reporters.

BuzzFeed first reported that Conyers had settled a wrongful dismissal complaint with a female staffer in 2015, after the woman alleged she was fired from his House office after she refused to “succumb to [his] sexual advances.” BuzzFeed also obtained signed affidavits in which more of Conyers’s staff accused him of “requests for sex acts, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public.”

Conyers has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, but he confirmed to BuzzFeed that he had paid his former staffer $27,000 as part of 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,” he said in a statement. “The resolution was not for millions of dollars, but rather for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment.”

Democrats and Republicans have been slow on calling for politicians accused of sexual misconduct to resign

Democratic House members largely stayed silent on the question of whether Conyers should resign until House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) publicly called for him to step down last week. Before then, only two female Congress members, Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), had called on Conyers to resign.

The House Ethics Committee is currently investigating Conyers’s conduct; at first, Pelosi and other lawmakers said the investigation should be able to take its course.

Pelosi previously defended Conyers and said he was entitled to due process during a Meet the Press interview on November 26. She also appeared to question Conyers’s accusers during the interview.

“I don’t know who they are,” Pelosi told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “Do you? They have not really come forward.”

But amid growing pressure last week, she abruptly changed her position.

“The allegations against Congressman Conyers are serious, disappointing, and very credible,” Pelosi said Thursday during a weekly press conference. “The brave women who came forward are owed justice. I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well, however; Congressman Conyers should resign.”

Other Democratic representatives soon followed suit, leading to yet another controversy. Politico reported last week that the Congressional Black Caucus, which Conyers helped found, was infuriated that Conyers was being pressured to resign while Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) was not, despite being accused of sexual harassment by six women. Members hinted that they believed that had to do with Conyers’s race.

“Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain what is the discernible difference between Al Franken and John Conyers,” Arnold Reed, Conyers’s attorney, told reporters last week.

There have been fewer calls from Democratic senators for Franken to resign. And over in the House, Republicans are dealing with their own sexual harassment scandal, after Politico reported that Rep. Blake Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle with a former staffer who accused him of sexual harassment.

Republican leaders are also divided on what to do with Farenthold. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he won’t call on Farenthold to resign (even though he has called on Conyers to step down), but other representatives say the Texas Republican needs to go as well as pay back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used to settle the claim.