Updated, 4:22 p.m.: The House Ethics Committee announced it has begun an investigation into allegations Rep. John Conyers sexually harassed members of his staff.
House Democrats found themselves plunged into crisis on Tuesday, after reports surfaced that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a staffer in 2015, with senior lawmakers calling for an immediate ethics investigation.
Conyers acknowledged the settlement, first reported by BuzzFeed, but forcefully denied he ever sexually harassed his former aide.
“I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” he said in a statement. “My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation.”
Known as the “dean of the House,” Conyers is the longest-serving current House member and one of the most prominent African-American lawmakers in Congress.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics probe into the allegations, saying there must be “zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, bullying or abuse.” Pelosi’s office had previously said the California Democrat was unaware of the 2015 settlement.
“As members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives and to ensure a climate of dignity and respect,” Pelosi said in a statement. “As I have said before, any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee.”
Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California, the two most senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee behind Conyers, also endorsed an ethics probe.
“The allegations against Ranking Member Conyers are extremely serious and deeply troubling. Obviously, these allegations must be investigated promptly by the Ethics Committee,” Nadler said in a statement.
“The Committee on Ethics should take up this matter immediately with a goal of promptly assessing the validity of the news account,” Lofgren said. “This reported behavior cannot be tolerated in the House of Representatives or anywhere else.”
Conyers said in his statement that he would fully cooperate with an investigation if the House launches one.
Buzzfeed reported on Monday night that Conyers “repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, 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.”