WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The House of Representatives Ethics Committee said on Tuesday it was investigating allegations of sexual harassment against U.S. Representative John Conyers, who said his office had resolved a harassment case with a payment but no admission of guilt.
A BuzzFeed News report late on Monday cited allegations from former staffers that Conyers, 88, made sexual advances to female staff.
The Democratic congressman from Michigan issued a statement on Tuesday prior to the Ethics Committee’s announcement that did not give details of the case but said he would fully cooperate in any investigation.
The allegations against Conyers came to light as Congress reviews policies on how to handle sexual harassment complaints. They followed a string of such complaints against prominent figures in the U.S. media, Hollywood and politics.
“In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me and continue to do so,” said Conyers, who is one of America’s most prominent black lawmakers.
“My office resolved the allegations – with an express denial of liability – in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation. That should not be lost in the narrative.”
The statement said the resolution of the allegations was equal to a reasonable severance payment.
The Ethics Committee said in a statement it was aware of the public allegations and had begun an investigation.
The panel can recommend punishments such as a reprimand, censure or expulsion, but the final punishment is determined by a vote in the full House. No member of Congress has ever been expelled for sexual misconduct.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had called for the panel to open a probe of Conyers. “Any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee,” she said in a statement.
First elected in 1964, Conyers is the longest serving member of the House and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In a statement, the chairman of the caucus, Democratic Representative Cedric Richmond, called the allegations “very serious and disturbing” and urged Conyers to “cooperate fully with any and all investigations into this matter.”
U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat who has led the push in the House to revise policies on sexual harassment complaints, called for an investigation.
“The allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of congressional funds against Congressman Conyers are serious & require an immediate Ethics investigation,” she said in a statement.
House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement earlier calling the latest news report “extremely troubling.”
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Hay