Washington (CNN)House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Sunday refused to criticize Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who has been accused of sexual harassment against former Capitol Hill staff.
“John Conyers is an icon in our country. He’s done a great deal to protect women,” she added, citing the congressman’s support for the Violence Against Women Act.
Conyers faces a House Ethics Committee investigation over allegations that he sexually harassed and discriminated against members of his staff. Last week, Buzzfeed News reported that Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 for allegedly sexually harassing a staffer. Conyers has “expressly and vehemently” denied any wrongdoing.
Pelosi, D-California, placed responsibility on the House Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations, and for Conyers to “do the right thing.”
“He will do the right thing in terms of what he knows about his situation, that he’s entitled to due process, but women are entitled to due process as well,” she said, adding, “We are talking about what we have heard. I have asked the Ethics Committee to look into that. He has said he is open, he will cooperate(.)”
An attorney for Conyers told CNN on Wednesday that the congressman will not resign amid the investigation.
Asked if she believes the women accusing Conyers, Pelosi said: “I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not come forward.”
Asked again, if she believes the accusers, she said:
“That’s for the Ethics Committee to review, but I believe he understands what is at stake here and he will do the right thing.”
Asked by host Chuck Todd whether Pelosi would suspend Conyers from his role as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Pelosi said: “This all happened during the Thanksgiving break. When we all come together at the beginning of this week, I think John will do the right thing.”
Pressed again on whether she will suspend Conyers, Pelosi added: “I’m not sharing that with you right now.”
Conyers steps down
Early Sunday afternoon, Conyers stepped down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“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 a statement.
“I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger,” the statement continued. “I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics.”
Pelosi reacted to Conyers’ decision, saying in a statement that “zero tolerance means consequences.”
“As a woman and a mother of four daughters, I particularly take any accusation of sexual harassment very seriously,” Pelosi continued. “Any credible accusation must be reviewed by the Ethics Committee expeditiously.”
Conyers’ decision to step aside as ranking member of the committee came after Pelosi worked behind the scenes with Conyers and other Congressional Black Caucus members for days to lay the groundwork for him to step aside gracefully, a senior democratic aide familiar with the conversations told CNN.