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Conyers admits financial settlement with former staffer but denies misconduct

Rep. John Conyers admitted Tuesday to reaching a settlement with an alleged victim of his behavior but denied having done anything improper.
Image: Rep. John Conyers
Rep. John Conyers questions witnesses during a House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the oversight of the U.S. refugee admissions program, on Capitol Hill on Oct. 26, 2017 in Washington.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Rep. John Conyers admitted Tuesday to reaching a financial settlement with a former staffer who had accused him of sexual misconduct but the lawmaker denied having done anything improper.

The House Ethics Committee announced several hours later it had opened an investigation.

"I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so," Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said in a statement. "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."

"It is important to recognize that the mere making of an allegation does not mean it is true," Conyers added.

His statement came in response to a Buzzfeed story, published Monday night, that alleged Conyers had settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a ex-staffer who claimed she’d been fired after refusing Conyers' "sexual advances."

Conyers, who is 88, paid out a $27,000 settlement to the woman in exchange for a confidentiality agreement from her, Buzzfeed reported.

Conyers, in his statement Tuesday, admitted having reached a settlement for an amount that "equated to a reasonable severance payment."

"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 regarding this matter," he said. "To the extent the House determines to look further at these issues, I will fully cooperate with an investigation."

Later Tuesday, the House Ethics Committee said it had started an investigation into the allegations against Conyers, following calls from several Democrats in the chamber to do so.

"The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative John Conyers, Jr. may have engaged in sexual harassment of members of his staff, discriminated against certain staff on the basis of age, and used official resources for impermissible personal purposes," the committee's statement said in announcing its investigation.

Several Democratic House members, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who revealed earlier this month that she had been sexually assaulted when she was in her 20s by the chief of staff she was an aide to, had called on the committee to investigate Conyers.

Earlier Tuesday, Conyers had denied, in comments to the Associated Press, having settled any sexual harassment complaints.

Conyers' office later issued the statement confirming a settlement.

"The Associated Press made an unannounced visit to the home of Congressman Conyers this morning. Congressman Conyers was under the impression the reporter was speaking of recent allegations of which he was unaware of and denied," the statement read.