DETROIT (AP) — Pressure from fellow Democrats grew for Michigan Rep. John Conyers to resign after a former staffer said the longest-serving member of the House made unwanted sexual advances that included partially undressing in front of her in a hotel room and inappropriate touching.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pressured the 88-year-old Conyers behind the scenes to leave the chamber, according to a senior House aide, who spoke late Tuesday on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Earlier in the day, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Conyers and explained to one of their founding members why he should resign, but stressed the decision was up to him, the senior House aide said.
The caucus chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond, called the meeting a “candid conversation about the seriousness of the allegations against him.”
Another caucus member, Rep. Bennie Thompson, said Conyers should, “go home and talk to his constituents and listen to them and make a decision based on that.”
Conyers missed two roll call votes in the House late Tuesday and was photographed by a passenger boarding a flight to Detroit from Washington.
Early Wednesday, Conyers’ son told reporters outside the family’s Detroit home that it’s “disconcerting” to see how his father is being treated following the allegations.
“It’s very unfortunate to see him fight so long for so many people and to automatically have the allegations assumed to be true,” John Conyers III said.
He noted, however: “And of course, with sexual assault, women are to be believed. But in this instance he has no history of this.”
The pressure on the lawmaker first elected in 1964 came after Deanna Maher, who ran a Michigan office for Conyers from 1997 to 2005, accused him of several incidents of sexual misconduct. She told The Associated Press Tuesday that the first incident occurred in 1997 during a three-day Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington, which she said she “felt honored” to attend.
Maher said while she was in the bedroom of a hotel suite, Conyers walked in, called room service and ordered sandwiches.
“I had my nightclothes on,” said Maher, who now lives in the Holland area in western Michigan. “I was just scared to death. I was married at the time. He sat in the bedroom taking his clothes off. I didn’t say anything and he didn’t say anything.”
Nothing happened between them, she added.
“He didn’t go naked. He was down to his skivvies,” Maher said. “He sat there eating sandwiches and then he stormed out and slammed the door. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself for being so stupid. I needed a job.”
“He didn’t put his hand on me, but the message was loud and clear,” she said.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Conyers, who announced Sunday that he would step aside as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
“We are at a watershed moment for our country in the fight against sexual harassment and discrimination,” Pelosi wrote to the committee. “The Committee on Ethics has a great responsibility to proceed expeditiously as well as fairly into any investigation of credible harassment and discrimination allegations.”
Conyers is among a number of prominent men in politics, entertainment and journalism who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of explosive allegations against former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Also last week, Republican Rep. Joe Barton apologized for a nude photograph leaked on social media.
Maher’s allegations against Conyers initially were reported by The Detroit News. She said there were other incidents involving unwanted touching in a car in 1998 and unwanted touching of her legs under her dress in 1999.
Conyers was driving the two to a Detroit-area airport in 1998 when he began touching her leg, Maher told the AP.
“He was feeling me up,” she said. “He was an older guy, a terrible driver and all over Interstate 75. He was stopped by a (Michigan State Police) trooper.”
Conyers’ attorney, Arnold Reed, said Maher’s allegations are uncorroborated and Conyers denies wrongdoing.
“John Conyers has always said he’s not guilty of harassing these women,” Reed said. “Any woman or man that is violated, that’s unacceptable — completely unacceptable. By the same token, a person has a right to protest his innocence. This is what we call due process. Mr. Conyers wants to be cooperative and will be cooperative with any investigation.”
Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that the 88-year-old lawmaker had settled a complaint in 2015 from a woman staffer who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances.
BuzzFeed reported that Conyers’ office paid the woman over $27,000 to settle the complaint under a confidentiality agreement.
BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately or requesting sexual favors.