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Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., on Tuesday confirmed in a statement that his congressional office settled a 2015 complaint by a female staffer who said she was fired because she resisted Conyers' sexual advances.
But, Conyers said, "I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me" when they were first leveled, and he continues to do so.
The House Ethics Committee later Tuesday said it had begun an investigation into the accusations against the congressman.
Conyers' statement was in response to reporting by Buzzfeed, which obtained affidavits from Conyers' staffers related to the sexual harassment complaint.
In them, staffers described how Conyers "repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sex acts, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public."
The 2015 complaint was eventually settled for $27,000, paid for out of Conyers' congressional office budget. A confidentiality clause prohibited the accuser from speaking publicly about the arrangement.
Conyers, the powerful ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, is the latest member of Congress to be confronted publicly with allegations of sexual misconduct, part of a flood of allegations against powerful men which began with reports on sexual misconduct settlements reached by disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
In Washington, high-profile allegations have been leveled in recent weeks against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Franken issued an apology, but Moore has denied nine separate allegations of sexual misconduct made by women dating back to the late 1970's. Two of these women say that Moore sexually assaulted them when they were minors.
Below is Conyers' full statement:
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 presumed 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 regarding this matter. To the extent the House determines to look further at these issues, I will fully cooperate with an investigation.