At­tor­ney: Cony­ers won’t re­sign

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ELISE VIEBECK, DAVID WEIGEL, AND ED O’KEEFE elise.viebeck@wash­post.com david.weigel@wash­post.com ed.okeefe@wash­post.com Mike DeBo­nis and Kim­berly Kindy con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Democrats are di­vided on whether con­gress­man should step down.

Rep. John Cony­ers Jr. (D-Mich.) has no im­me­di­ate plans to re­sign and in­tends to fight al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual harassment and mis­treat­ment from for­mer fe­male aides, his at­tor­ney said Wed­nes­day.

“The con­gress­man is a very de­lib­er­ate per­son and doesn’t want to make a hasty de­ci­sion,” Michi­gan-based at­tor­ney Arnold Reed said in a phone in­ter­view. “Th­ese al­le­ga­tions are un­true, and Mr. Cony­ers wants the pub­lic to know they are un­true. We will weigh and con­tinue to as­sess his op­tions.”

The state­ment came as mem­bers of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus de­clined to call for Cony­ers to step down, com­pli­cat­ing ef­forts by Demo­cratic lead­ers to ease the veteran law­maker to­ward an exit.

“We are not urg­ing John Cony­ers to re­sign,” the CBC’s chair­man, Rep. Cedric L. Rich­mond (D-La.), said Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. “We’re not. We think that is a de­ci­sion for him and his fam­ily and his con­stituents to make.”

Cony­ers re­mained at home in Detroit as his col­leagues in Wash­ing­ton grap­pled with how to ad­dress a grow­ing pub­lic out­cry about sex­ual harassment in Congress, which some fe­male law­mak­ers have de­scribed as ram­pant. In a small step, the House ap­proved leg­is­la­tion Wed­nes­day man­dat­ing work­place harassment train­ing for all mem­bers and staff.

But the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture of Cony­ers, 88, dom­i­nated dis­cus­sions on Capitol Hill af­ter a fourth woman ac­cused the con­gress­man of un­wanted sex­ual ad­vances when she worked for him. Cony­ers flew home abruptly Tues­day night af­ter step­ping aside as the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee at the urg­ing of House lead­ers.

Detroit sta­tion WDIV-TV, cit­ing two un­named sources, re­ported late Wed­nes­day that Cony­ers in­tends to an­nounce his de­ci­sion not to run for re­elec­tion in Jan­uary. Reached at his of­fice, Reed said the re­port was based on ru­mor, not fact. “That is not true. That is not true,” he said.

Reed said he and Cony­ers did not dis­cuss plans for the con­gress­man to re­turn to Wash­ing­ton dur­ing a Wed­nes­day meet­ing.

“It’s been an ugly scene around their home,” Reed said. “When I went over there, [re­porters] were out there like vul­tures. Mr. Cony­ers is aw­fully con­cerned about that. This does not in­volve his fam­ily.”

Only a few Demo­cratic law­mak­ers have ex­plic­itly called for Cony­ers to step aside, and some al­lies urged cau­tion as the House Ethics Com­mit­tee ex­am­ines the charges.

“I’ve seen cases where the al­le­ga­tions don’t have merit. We need a fair process,” said Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.), vice chair of the Demo­cratic con­fer­ence. “You don’t want char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tions.”

Cony­ers and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has been ac­cused of in­ap­pro­pri­ately touch­ing sev­eral women, are now sub­jects of ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Franken, 66, re­turned to Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day from Thanksgiving break and apol­o­gized for his be­hav­ior.

Cony­ers’s de­ci­sion to step aside from his com­mit­tee post was seen as a con­ces­sion to crit­ics who said he should no longer oc­cupy such a pow­er­ful perch as al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct mount.

Asked Wed­nes­day whether Cony­ers should re­sign, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) de­clined to say.

“Look, I know what I would do if this hap­pened to me,” Ryan said at a news con­fer­ence. “I will leave it up to him to de­cide what he wants to do. I think he made the right de­ci­sion in step­ping down from his lead­er­ship po­si­tion.”

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ad­dressed the sit­u­a­tion in­di­rectly on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, be­fore the House voted to man­date anti-harassment train­ing.

“Zero tol­er­ance means con­se­quences for ev­ery­one,” Pelosi said in a floor speech. “No mat­ter your con­tri­bu­tion to our coun­try, you do not get a pass to harass or dis­crim­i­nate. No mat­ter how great the legacy, it is not a li­cense to harass or abuse.”

Cony­ers’s legacy is a com­pli­cat­ing factor for col­leagues as they weigh how to re­spond to the mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions. His leg­isla­tive se­nior­ity, in­flu­ence on past pol­icy de­bates and ties to the civil rights move­ment have made him a revered fig­ure among House Democrats.

Mem­bers of the cau­cus re­fused to an­swer ques­tions about Cony­ers as they ex­ited a meet­ing. In­side the room, Cony­ers, Franken and other mem­bers who have dealt with harassment al­le­ga­tions were dis­cussed.

“There was talk about how the sys­tem was prob­a­bly cre­ated by men and not by a ta­ble that had di­ver­sity around it,” Rich­mond said.

Sex­ual harassment also con­sumed dis­cus­sion at the House Democrats’ weekly closed-door cau­cus meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who were present. Law­mak­ers dis­cussed work­place is­sues fac­ing Capitol Hill, in­clud­ing how con­gres­sional of­fices field, in­ves­ti­gate and set­tle harassment and dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints.

Rep. Kath­leen Rice (D-N.Y.), one of the few Democrats who has pub­licly called for Cony­ers to step down, joined Rep. Ron DeSan­tis (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mar­sha Black­burn (R-Tenn.) on Wed­nes­day to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to re­vamp the process for han­dling sex­ual harassment claims in Congress.

She left the Democrats’ meet­ing say­ing that lead­ers were fo­cused on a pro­posal to re­quire sex­ual harassment train­ing but did not grap­ple with the Cony­ers is­sue.

“Let’s talk about the big ele­phant in the room,” Rice said. “I don’t have time for con­ver­sa­tions that are not real, that are not go­ing to ad­vance the ball.”

Reps. Pramila Jaya­pal (DWash.) and Earl Blu­me­nauer (DOre.) have also said Cony­ers should re­sign. “Ob­vi­ously that’s his de­ci­sion, but I would think he should,” Blu­me­nauer said in an in­ter­view with C-SPAN on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Rice sug­gested that Ryan could ad­vance the de­bate if he al­lowed a Cony­ers ac­cuser bound by a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment to go pub­lic. “I’m call­ing on the speaker, who clearly has the power, to re­lease her from her nondis­clo­sure agree­ment,” Rice said. “We can’t say we stand for vic­tims as a body if we hold her to a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment that al­lows her ac­cuser — her abuser — to talk about her but leaves her in the lurch.”

The bill she un­veiled with DeSan­tis and Black­burn, who is run­ning for Se­nate, would elim­i­nate the fund used to pay out harassment set­tle­ments, retroac­tively re­veal who had set­tled and re­quire those politi­cians to pay back the money with in­ter­est.

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