Rep. John Conyers, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 50 years, said this week that he was not going to resign his seat over accusations of sexually harassing female staffers.
But on Sunday, the Michigan Democrat tweeted that he would be stepping down as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, a blow to Democrats and black legislators alike.
Conyers, in a series of tweets, pleaded his case, noting that he still denies the allegations against him, but saying that he was making the decision to step down because he “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.”
Conyers, who has represented parts of the Detroit area in the House since 1965, this week confirmed the settlement in 2015 of a wrongful-termination complaint from a staff member who had accused him of sexual harassment.
Conyers’ lawyer, Arnold Reed, told the New York Times that Conyers never admitted to any wrongdoing in the settlement.
“It’s not a situation where Mr. Conyers has said that he did anything wrong, that he admitted guilt or acknowledged responsibility for any allegations,” Reed said.
Conyers ended his multipart Twitter statements with: “I am grateful to my colleagues who have called for due process before weighing judgment. I would urge them to continue to do so for any Member accused of wrongdoing. Basic fairness requires no less.”
After the report of the settlement was published last week, a second woman, Melanie Sloan, accused the congressman of harassing her while she worked as his aide. USA Today reports that Melanie Sloan said that Conyers verbally abused her, criticized her appearance and once showed up to a meeting in his underwear.
The House Ethics Committee, made up of pols who may have their own skeletons in the closet, has opened an investigation into the allegations.
Reed noted to the Times that many men in politics behave badly.
“If we are talking about resignation and resignation over allegations, then half the people in the House, half the people in the Senate, including the president of the United States of America, would have to step aside, step down and or resign,” he said.
Conyers is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.