(CN) — Michigan Rep. John Conyers on Tuesday “vehemently” denied sexual harassment allegations made against by a former member of his Washington staff, but acknowledged the existence of a 2015 settlement with the woman.
Buzzfeed News reported Monday that the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, paid the ex-staffer $27,000 to make the complaint go away.
Conyers initially responded to the report by telling an Associated Press reporter he knows nothing about any claims of inappropriate touching and only learned of the story then roiling Washington D.C., from television just hours earlier.
“I have been looking at these things in amazement,” he said, referring to allegations of sexual harassment and assault being made against politicians and others.
Later, in a written statement, Conyers said, “I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so.”
But he went on to admit a settlement was paid to the woman.
“My office resolved the allegations — with an express denial of liability — in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation,” Conyers’ statement said.
“There are statutory requirements of confidentiality that apply to both the employee and me regarding this matter,” he said.
Conyers added that he will fully cooperate with an investigation if the House launches one.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., responded to the initial report Tuesday morning by reiterating his support for reforming the system available to staff to report complaints.
Calling the report about Conyers “extremely troubling,” Ryan said “additional reforms to the system are under consideration as the committee continues its review.
“People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination,” he added.
Ryan recently directed the House Administration Committee to review Capitol Hill’s policies and procedures regarding workplace harassment and discrimination. He announced after a House Administration Committee hearing last week on the issue that sexual harassment awareness training would be required for all members and staff.
According to Buzzfeed, Conyers’ office paid the woman who made the complaint against him under a deal subject to a confidentiality agreement.
BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately — rubbing their legs and backs — or requesting sexual favors.
One former staffer said one of her duties was “to keep a list of women that I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources.”
BuzzFeed said it received the documents from right-wing activist Mike Cernovich, but independently confirmed their authenticity.
Cernovich said he gave the documents to BuzzFeed News because Democrats would “try to discredit the story by attacking the messenger” if he published them himself.
The 88-year-old Conyers is the longest-serving current member of the House. Calls to Conyers and his office seeking comment were not immediately returned Monday night.
The government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money over the last 20 years to resolve claims of sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.
The Office of Compliance released the numbers amid a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of entertainment, business and politics that made its way to Capitol Hill last week.
Two female lawmakers described incidents of sexual harassment, one in explicit detail, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized to a woman who said he forcibly kissed her and groped her during a 2006 USO tour.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday she was unaware of the settlement by Conyers.
“The current process includes the signing of non-disclosure agreements by the parties involved,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“Congresswoman Jackie Speier has introduced legislation that will provide much-needed transparency on these agreements and make other critical reforms. I strongly support her efforts,” she added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.