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Friday, December 01, 2017 1:00 am

Pelosi calls for Conyers' resignation Misconduct allegations roil Congress

5th woman accuses Franken amid Senate probe

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON – As allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful lawmakers roil Congress, House Democrats on Thursday delivered their strongest rebuke yet with calls for Michigan Rep. John Conyers' resignation, while those in the Senate reserved judgment for their embattled colleague, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized the multiple accusations against the 88-year-old Conyers, which included repeated propositions for sex, and retaliation against one former aide who rebuffed his advances, as “serious, disappointing and very credible.”

In no uncertain terms, the top Democrat in the House said, “Congressman Conyers should resign,” a call echoed by other Democratic leaders.

Conyers' lawyer, Arnold Reed, swiftly rejected the request as the lawmaker professes his innocence.

“Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave. That decision will be completely up to the congressman,” Reed said.

Reed raised the specter of a double standard as House Democrats pressed for Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House and a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, to step aside, while few have called for Franken to relinquish his seat.

“At the end of the day, I would suspect that Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain what is the ... difference between Al Franken and congressman Conyers,” Reed said.

Punishment has been swift for titans of entertainment, media and sports, accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior and harassment leading to immediate firings. Not so in Congress, where lawmakers have said ethics panels should have time to investigate and have been reluctant to reverse the will of the voters.

Yet the clamor was growing, with some House Democrats arguing that if Conyers goes, so should Franken. That demand was made hours after Franken faced a new allegation: An Army veteran accused him of groping her during a USO Christmas tour in the Middle East more than a decade ago.

Stephanie Kemplin, 41, of Maineville, Ohio, told CNN that Franken had cupped her right breast when she stood next to him for a photo in December 2003. Kemplin, who was deployed to Kuwait at the time, became the fifth woman in two weeks to accuse Franken of sexual misconduct.

The Senate Ethics Committee announced on Thursday that it had opened a preliminary investigation into the allegations against Franken, who has apologized and said he welcomes the probe.

Pelosi's comments came after she faced harsh criticism for calling Conyers an “icon” who has “done a great deal to protect women” during an appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

By Thursday, the highest-ranking members of the party had upped the ante, from simply backing an ethics investigation and emphasizing the importance of due process for those accused, to calling for Conyers' resignation.

“Zero tolerance means consequences – for everyone, no matter how great the legacy, it's not license to harass or discriminate,” Pelosi said.

In a different case of sex and a House member, Rep. Joe Barton, a 17-term Republican from Texas who announced this month he was seeking re-election, decided Thursday that he wouldn't, just a week after a nude photo of him leaked on social media.

Although his House colleagues didn't call for his resignation or suggest he not run again, Barton faced increasing political pressure in his home state to step aside.

This week, a Republican announced he would run against Barton in next year's primary.

“Obviously you know I've been in a little bit of a controversy,” Barton said Thursday. “I just felt it was time to pass the torch.”