Update 5:12 p.m.: The leaders of the House Ethics Committee say the panel has begun an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Michigan Rep. John Conyers. A statement from Reps. Susan Brooks and Ted Deutch says the committee is aware of public allegations that Conyers may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes.
Another United States legislator has been accused of sexual harassment.
Michigan Rep. John Conyers settled a complaint in 2015 from a woman who alleged she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances, BuzzFeed News reported late Monday.
The website reported that Conyers' office paid the woman over $27,000 to settle the complaint under a confidentiality agreement.
That settlement came out of Conyers' taxpayer-funded office budget, instead of the designated fund for such settlements, which kept the payout hidden.
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. One former staffer said one of her duties was "to keep a list of women that I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources."
Conyers released a lengthy statement Tuesday afternoon:
"I have long been and continue to be a fierce advocate for equality in the workplace and I fully support the rights of employees who believe they have been harassed or discriminated against to assert claims against their employers. That said, it is important to recognize that the mere making of an allegation does not mean it is true. The process must be fair to both the employee and the accused. The current media environment is bringing a much-needed focus to the important issue of preventing harassment in workplaces across the country. However, equally important to keep in mind in this particular moment is the principle of due process and that those accused of wrongdoing are assumed innocent unless and until an investigation establishes otherwise. In our country, we strive to honor this fundamental principle that all are entitled to due process. In this case, I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so. 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 resolution was not for millions of dollars, but rather for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment. There are statutory requirements of confidentiality that apply to both the employee and me in this matter. To the extent the House determines to look further at these issues, I will fully cooperate with an investigation."
Conyers previously told The Associated Press that he hasn't settled any sexual harassment complaints with any staff members.
The congressman, who answered the door at his Detroit home Tuesday morning, said he knows nothing about any claims of inappropriate touching and learned of the story just hours earlier.
Referring to allegations of sexual harassment and assault being made against politicians and others, the veteran lawmaker said he's "been looking at these things with amazement."
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the allegations against Conyers "deeply troubling," and says House employees "deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination."
The House Committee on Ethics says it will open an investigation into Conyers over the allegations. The Michigan Democratic Party, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and other Democratic leaders called for an investigation Tuesday afternoon.
Sexual harassment allegations against powerful men have increased dramatically in recent weeks, including media figures and a number of politicians. Minnesota Senator Al Franken has been accused of at least two harassment incidents, and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls.