Michigan Rep. John Conyers, under investigation over allegations he sexually harassed female staff members, said Sunday he will step aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee while fiercely denying he acted inappropriately during his long tenure in Congress, the AP reports. In a statement, the 88-year-old lawmaker made clear he would prefer to keep his leadership role on the committee, which has wide jurisdiction over US law enforcement, from civil rights and criminal justice to protections against sexual harassment. But Conyers acknowledged maintaining the position would be an undue distraction. Denying the allegations, Conyers urged members of Congress to allow "due process" before rendering a judgment.
BuzzFeed reported last Monday that Conyers' office paid a woman more than $27,000 under a confidentiality agreement to settle a complaint in 2015 that she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately—rubbing their legs and backs—or requesting sexual favors. In a statement, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she welcomed Conyers' decision to step down from his committee leadership post. "Zero tolerance means consequences," Pelosi said. "Any credible accusation must be reviewed by the Ethics Committee expeditiously. We are at a watershed moment on this issue, and no matter how great an individual's legacy, it is not a license for harassment."