Calls for Michigan Representative John Conyers to resign increased on Tuesday after a former staffer said the longest-serving member of the House made unwanted sexual advances that included partially undressing in front of her in a hotel room and inappropriate touching.
Deanna Maher, 77, who ran a Michigan office for Conyers from 1997 to 2005, told The Associated Press Tuesday that the first incident occurred in 1997 during a three-day Congressional Black Caucus event in Washington, which she said she "felt honoured" to attend.
Maher said while she was in the bedroom of a hotel suite, Conyers walked in, called room service and ordered sandwiches.
"I had my nightclothes on," said Maher, who now lives in the Holland area in western Michigan. "I was just scared to death. I was married at the time. He sat in the bedroom taking his clothes off. I didn't say anything and he didn't say anything."
'The message was loud and clear'
Nothing happened between them, she added.
"He didn't go naked. He was down to his skivvies," Maher said. "He sat there eating sandwiches and then he stormed out and slammed the door. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself for being so stupid. I needed a job."
"He didn't put his hand on me, but the message was loud and clear," she said.
The latest revelation came on a day Conyers met with the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus for what the group's chairman, Representative Cedric Richmond, called a "candid conversation about the seriousness of the allegations against him."
"Any decision to resign from office before the ethics investigation is complete is John's decision to make," Richmond said in a statement after the meeting.
Founder of Congressional Black Caucus
Conyers was first elected in 1964 and was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
'We are at a watershed moment for our country in the fight against sexual harassment and discrimination.' - House minority leader Nancy Pelosi
Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said he met with Conyers on Tuesday to let him know he was concerned for him.
"I think he should go home and talk to his constituents and listen to them and make a decision based on that," Thompson said.
Conyers missed two roll call votes in the House Tuesday evening and was photographed by a passenger boarding a Delta Airlines flight to Detroit.
Calls to step aside
Some of the Detroit Democrat's House colleagues are calling for him to step aside.
Democratic Representative Kathleen Rice of New York was joined Tuesday by Representative Pramila Jayapal from Washington state in calling for Conyers to step down.
A senior Democratic aide said Pelosi has been putting pressure on Conyers to resign from the chamber. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal private conversations.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating allegations against Conyers, who has denied the accusations and refused to resign. He announced Sunday that he would step aside as the top Democrat on the judiciary committee.
'A great responsibility'
Separately Tuesday, the House's top Democrat said in a letter to the ethics panel that it should move quickly with its inquiry.
"We are at a watershed moment for our country in the fight against sexual harassment and discrimination," wrote minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. "The Committee on Ethics has a great responsibility to proceed expeditiously as well as fairly into any investigation of credible harassment and discrimination allegations."
The Senate Ethics Committee could also soon be investigating allegations made against Senator Al Franken after radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing her on a USO tour in the Middle East in 2006, before he was elected to office. Tweeden also released a photograph of Franken appearing to grope her breasts while she's sleeping. Two women have also come forward to accuse Franken of grabbing their buttocks while posing for photographs.
Franken has apologized and said he welcomed an investigation.
The lawmakers are among a number of prominent men in politics, entertainment and journalism who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of explosive allegations against former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Also last week, Representative Joe Barton apologized for a nude photograph leaked on social media.
Maher's allegations against Conyers initially were reported by The Detroit News. She said there were other incidents involving unwanted touching in a car in 1998 and unwanted touching of her legs under her dress in 1999.
Conyers was driving the two to a Detroit-area airport in 1998 when he began touching her leg, Maher told the AP.
"He was feeling me up," she said. "He was an older guy, a terrible driver and all over Interstate 75. He was stopped by a [Michigan State Police] trooper."
'This is what we call due process'
Conyers' attorney, Arnold Reed, said Maher's allegations are uncorroborated and Conyers denies wrongdoing.
"John Conyers has always said he's not guilty of harassing these women," Reed said. "Any woman or man that is violated, that's unacceptable — completely unacceptable. By the same token, a person has right to protest his innocence. This is what we call due process. Mr. Conyers wants to be co-operative and will be co-operative with any investigation."
Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that the 88-year-old lawmaker had settled a complaint in 2015 from a woman staffer who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances.
BuzzFeed reported that Conyers' office paid the woman over $27,000 to settle the complaint under a confidentiality agreement. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately or requesting sexual favours.