Just hours after Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi took to NBC’s “Meet the Press” to defend accused serial sexual harasser John Conyers, asserting that Conyers is entitled to due process and adding that she ultimately believes he will “do the right thing,” the 88-year-old Congressman and civil-rights leader has begrudgingly announced that he will step aside as ranking member of the powerful House Judiciary Committee as an ethics probe against him ramps up.
The announcement comes as a surprise consider that Pelosi, in her first public remarks since Buzzfeed revealed the sexual harassment settlements involving Conyers and several former staffers, defended him as an "icon" for both civl and womens' rights.
Echoing President Trump’s initial response to the accusations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Pelosi said she believes Conyers “will do the right thing."
“We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused - and was it one accusation? Is it two?” Pelosi replied.
“John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women - Violence Against Women Act, which the left - right-wing - is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that, and he did great work on that."
Conyers decision is also surprising in light of a veiled threat issued by his attorney, who defended his client by suggesting - in a bizarre statement written in the third person - that “many members” of the House and Senate are guilty of the same conduct.
“Reed acknowledged that while these allegations are serious, they are simply allegations,” the statement said.
“If people were required to resign over allegations, a lot of people would be out of work in this country including many members of the House, Senate and even the president."
The statement said Conyers has “no plans to resign” despite mounting pressure to do just that.
In its initial report about the settlements against Conyers, Buzzfeed quoted a former staffer who said that while sexual harassment allegations have felled powerful figures in media and entertainment, they would do little to dent Conyers’ reputation.
“He’s untouchable” the staffer said, adding that Conyers, whose held his seat since the mid-1960s, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“After careful consideration and in light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me, I have notified the Democratic Leader of my request to step aside as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee during the investigation of these matters,” Conyers said in his statement, adding that he would've "very much" preferred to stay on as ranking member.
While he has retained his seat, his decision to step aside as ranking member of the committee will greatly reduce his influence over legislation. His decision also sets an interesting precedent by showing that - contrary to his former staffers' take on the controversy - no lawmaker is untouchable.