Besieged by allegations of sexual harassment, Democratic Rep. John Conyers resigned from Congress on Tuesday, bringing an abrupt end to the civil rights leader's nearly 53-year career on Capitol Hill.
The 88-year-old liberal from Detroit becomes the highest-ranking member of Congress to be brought down by the sexual misconduct allegations that have toppled powerful men in Hollywood, the media and politics in recent weeks.
While continuing to deny any wrongdoing, Conyers announced what he referred to as his "retirement" on Detroit talk radio calling in from the hospital where he was taken last week after complaining of light-headedness. He endorsed his son John Conyers III to succeed him.
U.S. & World
"My legacy can't be compromised or diminished in any way by what we're going through now," the congressman said. "This, too, shall pass. My legacy will continue through my children."
Conyers, who was first elected in 1964 and went on to become a founding member in 1971 of the Congressional Black Caucus, easily won re-election last year to his 27th term in the heavily Democratic district. Until Tuesday, he was the longest-serving current member of Congress.
But amid a drumbeat of allegations he groped or sexually harassed women who worked for him, he faced growing calls to resign from colleagues in the House, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
As the furor grew in recent weeks, he stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and the Ethics Committee began investigating him.
"Whatever they are, they are not accurate," Conyers said of the allegations in resigning. "They're not true, and I think that they're something that I can't explain where they came from."
Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said he was saddened by the resignation of his "friend and mentor" but added: "There can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct that has been alleged."
It will be up to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to set a date for a special election to select someone to serve out the remaining year in Conyers' two-year term. Michigan state Sen. Ian Conyers, a grandson of Conyers' brother, said he plans to run for the seat.
On Monday, yet another allegation was lodged against Conyers, when a woman who said she worked for the congressman for more than a decade said he slid his hand up her skirt and rubbed her thighs while she was sitting next to him in the front row of a church.
"I was startled and sprang to my feet and exclaimed, 'He just ran his hand up my thigh!' Other staffers witnessed the event," Elisa Grubbs said in an affidavit.
Grubbs also said she repeatedly saw Conyers touching and stroking the legs and buttocks of Brown and other female staffers. Such behavior "was a regular part of life while working in the office of Rep. Conyers," she said.
Grubbs, who said she worked for Conyers from around 2001 to 2013, is the cousin of another accuser, Marion Brown, who reached a confidential, taxpayer-funded settlement of more than $27,000 over allegations he sexually harassed her. That settlement came to light in mid-November, setting off a cascade of allegations against the congressman.
At least two other women who worked for him have accused him of sexual misconduct.
"This is about much more than one congressman," Grubbs' attorney, Lisa Bloom, said in an email after Conyers announced his resignation. "Systemic change is urgently needed so no other women have to endure the retaliation, secrecy and delays my client Marion Brown and others experienced."
Conyers said in a statement read Tuesday on the floor of the House by Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee that he was resigning "to preserve my legacy and good name."
The congressman also complained that he was not being afforded due process to defend himself, and cited his health problems as another factor in his decision. He added that he hopes his retirement will be viewed in the "larger perspective" of his more than 50 years as a lawmaker.
Conyers regularly won elections with more than 80 percent of the vote.
He co-sponsored a 1972 resolution recommending President Richard Nixon's impeachment for his conduct of the Vietnam War and regularly introduced a bill from 1989 onward to study the harm caused by slavery and the possibility of reparations to the descendants of slaves.
After a 15-year struggle, Conyers succeeded in establishing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday in 1986. Also, his district office in Detroit employed civil rights legend Rosa Parks for more than two decades.
Word of Conyers' resignation was met with sadness among House Democrats, even though many had called on him to step down. The issue had divided Democrats, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Pelosi had struggled, calling Conyers an "icon" but days later pressing for his resignation.
The furor unfolded as the sexual misconduct allegations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sent members of both parties rushing to choose sides.
"I think that we lose our moral authority if we also don't call out those we love who have done things that are bad," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. "I think we have to recognize and be able to hold the dueling possibilities that somebody can be a great man and have done great things for our country and for civil rights but also have done terrible things that require accountability."