Sexual abuse allegations continued to roil U.S. politics Sunday, with Democrat Rep. John Conyers Jr. stepping down from a powerful House post and President Donald Trump again voicing support for Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Conyers announced he was stepping down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee while he faces an ethics investigation into allegations he sexually harassed female staffers.
The announcement came shortly after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi repeatedly called on the Michigan Democrat to “do the right thing.” At the same time, she said he deserved due process.
Conyers, 88, has denied the allegations. But he said the investigation and the allegations are a distraction to the “important” work of the committee, which he noted handles civil rights cases and voters’ access to the ballot box.
Pelosi, of California, defended Conyers as an “icon” who had “done a great deal to protect women” over the years. Asked if she believed his accusers, she said it was up to the ethics committee to determine that.
“I believe he will do the right thing,” she told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” before he announced his decision to give up his committee post.
The news website BuzzFeed reported last week that Conyers’ office paid $27,000 to settle a complaint from a women in 2015 who said she was fired after rejecting the congressman’s sexual advances. It reported additional accusations from other female staffers as well.
Also Sunday, Trump reiterated support for former Alabama judge Moore, despite numerous allegations against him of sexual misconduct and harassment.
“Can’t let Schumer-Pelosi win this race,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he has been spending the Thanksgiving holiday. He was referring to Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Pelosi, who head the Democratic contingents in their respective chambers of Congress.
Numerous women have come forward to accuse Moore, an ultra-conservative Republican, of various degrees of sexual harassment, including assault, when he was in his 30s nearly 40 years ago. One of the accusers was 14 years old at the time.
Trump backed Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, in the Republican primary, but Strange lost to Moore. Now, says Trump, the party cannot afford to allow Democratic candidate Doug Jones to win. A Jones victory could threaten upcoming Senate votes, Trump’s aides have argued, even though whoever wins in the Dec. 12 special election would likely not be seated in time for the crucial tax reform bill.
“Liberal Jones would be BAD,” Trump tweeted. “The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet who is WEAK on Crime, WEAK on the Border, Bad for our Military and our great Vets, Bad for our 2nd Amendment, AND WANTS TO RAISES TAXES (sic) TO THE SKY. Jones would be a disaster!”
Jones is best known as a former U.S. attorney who in the late 1990s successfully prosecuted two members of the Klu Klux Klan for the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four black girls
Trump’s insistence on supporting Moore puts him at odds with many in his party, who believe his candidacy has become untenable. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he no longer believes Moore is fit to serve in the Senate.
Even Trump’s daughter Ivanka harshly condemned Moore’s alleged behavior.
Trump noted last week that Moore has denied the allegations, and that seemed to be good enough for the president.
With time running out before the Christmas break, Trump faces daunting days ahead as he tries to drum up support for the tax bill, avert a government shutdown and battle a deepening probe into possible Russian collusion during the presidential campaign.
Allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct and assault have exploded in recent weeks, from Capitol Hill, where Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., also faces an ethics investigation into accusations of unwanted kissing and groping, to top news executives and once-omnipotent Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Most have denied the allegations or said they had a different memory of the incidents. With the exception of politicians accused of misconduct, almost all of the men have lost their jobs or lucrative contracts.
In his first interviews since the allegations were made, Franken on Sunday again apologized to the women who have accused him.
“I have been reflecting on this,” he told Minnesota Public Radio. “I want to be a better man.”
He called a 2006 photo in which he appeared to be laying his hands over the chest of a sleepy woman “inexcusable.” The woman, radio host Leeann Tweeden, also said Franken kissed her aggressively as part of a skit they were rehearsing for U.S. troops. Tweeden has since said that she has accepted Franken’s apology.
“I am ashamed of that photo,” Franken said. “You know she didn’t have any ability to consent. She had every right to feel violated by that photo.”