US House leaders press scandal-hit congressman John Conyers to resign

Congressman John Conyers of Michigan is refusing to resign after a string of sexual harrassment allegations, even as Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi calls on him to do so.
Democratic lawmaker John Conyers (above) has been hospitalised for stress.
Democratic lawmaker John Conyers (above) has been hospitalised for stress.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The top House leaders of both parties called on Thursday (Nov 30) for Democratic lawmaker John Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress, to resign over allegations of sexual harassment and of an attempted coverup.

Their calls came just hours after the 88-year-old Conyers was hospitalised after becoming lightheaded, dizzy and experiencing shortness of breath, according to his lawyer Arnold Reed. US media described the illness as stress-related.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who as recently as Sunday seemed to defend Conyers, said on Thursday that the allegations against him were "serious, disappointing and very credible," adding that she was praying for Conyers and his family.

"However," she added, "Congressman Conyers should resign."

And Paul Ryan, the Republican leader, told reporters: "Yes, I think he should resign immediately. I've been briefed on the torrent of allegations and I think he should."

But Conyers' lawyer was defiant, saying the congressman was "in good spirits" and would not be pressured to resign.

"It is not up to Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman. And she sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave," Reed told a news conference in Detroit.

'TREMENDOUS STRESS'

Taken together, the two calls seemed to leave Conyers with scant hope of clinging to a seat he has held since 1965. Should he quit the Congress, he would join an ever-lengthening list of prominent men to see their careers and reputations damaged by allegations of sexual misconduct.

Sam Riddle, a political consultant and friend of Conyers, told reporters earlier Thursday that the lawmaker's health condition was caused by the "tremendous stress due to media hounding, and political vultures and serial accusers," The Detroit News reported.

"That type of stress would affect anybody."

Multiple women have accused Conyers of sexual harassment.

Marion Brown, a former Conyers staffer, told the NBC Today show on Thursday that he had asked her in 2015 to "sexually satisfy him".

"He just violated my body," she said.

 

Brown said she had reached a settlement with Conyers that included a non-disclosure agreement, but decided to speak out regardless.

BuzzFeed News - which reported on the Brown settlement earlier this month without revealing her name - said Conyers had paid her US$27,000 (S$36,000) from his congressional office budget.

The House Ethics Committee is investigating the allegations.

Reed on Thursday sought to cast doubt on Brown's credibility, questioning why she stayed in the congressman's employ despite the alleged harassment.

"She had an opportunity 15 years ago to come out, and she didn't. But she's jumping on the bandwagon now," Reed said, insisting that Conyers be allowed due process to defend himself against the allegations, which Conyers has denied.

OTHERS UNDER PRESSURE

Nevertheless, the congressman on Sunday stepped down as ranking member of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

Several prominent US lawmakers have been hit by allegations of sexual misconduct in the wake of the accusations targeting movie mogul Harvey Weinstein - allegations that have given rise to a torrent of accusations against many others in the entertainment, media and political world.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, a fellow Democrat who is accused of touching or kissing several women without their consent, is also under pressure to step down.

In the Republican camp, Alabama candidate for the US Senate Roy Moore - accused of harassing and molesting teenage girls as young as 14 - has faced calls from within his own party to drop out, although he continues to enjoy the support of President Donald Trump.