Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan announced Tuesday he is resigning from Congress following accusations that he sexually harassed former female staff members.
Conyers was the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
He made the announcement on a local Michigan radio show, during which he endorsed his son, John Conyers III, to take his place.
Conyers, 88, emphasized that he was not resigning but rather retiring.
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now. This too shall pass,” Conyers said.
Of the allegations against him, Conyers said, “They’re not accurate, they’re not true and they’re something I can’t explain where they came from.”
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson (Texas) read a statement from Conyers on the House floor. The statement read, “Given the totality of the circumstance of not being afforded the right of due process in conjunction with current health conditions, and to preserve my legacy and good name, I am retiring. I hope my retirement will be viewed in the larger perspective of my record of service as I enter a new chapter.”
“John Conyers is an icon in our country. He’s done a great deal to protect women,” according to Pelosi, who did not say whether Conyers should resign.
Conyers was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the group’s chairman, said last week that he and Conyers had a “lengthy discussion” but ultimately, “I did not ask him to resign,” according to Politico.
But Politico and CNN both reported an internal divide among CBC members.
“Those members are trying to ease his exit without trampling on his legacy during his 50-plus years in the House,” according to CNN.
The outlet also reported that an unidentified CBC member’s staffer described “a feeling among some of our members that we need to protect [Conyers’] legacy.”
But Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a longtime CBC member who also served as the group’s chairman, had called for Conyers to exit Congress.
Last Sunday Conyers stepped down from the House Judiciary Committee. Shortly before his announcement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared on “Meet the Press” and threw her support behind Conyers. She questioned the accounts of the women who came forward.
Pelosi eventually changed her tune, and she and House Speaker Paul Ryan both called for Conyers’ resignation.
Conyers was hospitalized last week, reportedly for stress, according to CNN affiliate WDIV.
Ian Conyers, John Conyers’ great-nephew, told The New York Times that his great-uncle’s retirement concerned his health.
“His doctor advised him that the rigor of another campaign would be too much for him just in terms of his health,” said Ian Conyers, who will also try to replace the older Conyers in Congress.
Conyers is reportedly still in the hospital.
The sexual harassment allegations were first revealed by BuzzFeed News, which reportedly obtained four signed affidavits pertaining to Conyers. According to the publication, Conyers made unwanted sexual advances toward some of his women staffers and touched and caressed them. In 2015 Conyers reportedly reached a $27,000 settlement with a former female staffer who claimed she was fired for not engaging with Conyers sexually.
Since the story broke, women have alleged inappropriate touching, unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate behavior on behalf of Conyers. Conyers and his attorney have denied all claims against him.