A former top communications aide to Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan offered a defense of his former boss amid Tuesday growing allegations of sexual harassment, saying it wasn't uncommon for staffers to accidentally see the congressman in his underwear.
One former employee, Melanie Sloan, came forward with allegations last week, including one instance where Conyers called her to his office when he was in his underwear.
"I was pretty taken aback to see my boss half-dressed," she told The Washington Post. "I turned on my heel and I left."
Bob Weiner, who served as Conyers' communications director from 1994 to 2000, spoke to reporters and photographers assembled outside the Congressman's office, disputing Sloan's allegations.
"Something else that people need to know: his closet is in his office right here. He changes clothes in his office. Most of us have walked in on him accidentally without knocking and have seen him in his underwear. Big deal. That's where his closet is, he changes his clothes there. So to say that somebody came to a meeting and that's how it was, that's an untrue statement. That is the kind of thing that needs to be explored before there's any acceptance to that kind of an allegation," Weiner said, later clarifying that all members of Congress have closets in their offices.
Weiner also defended Conyers' "surly moments" with staffers, saying that is commonplace among politicians. "That's not sexist. That's just being aggressive as the member of Congress or the Cabinet member or the VIP that you are. It has nothing to do with being anti-women. I got it too."
The House Ethics Committee announced last week it has opened an investigation into allegations against Conyers after BuzzFeed reported that he settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 after allegedly sexually harassing a staffer. Conyers denied wrongdoing in that case, but acknowledged that there had been a financial settlement to that complaint. Another former staffer, Deanna Maher, told CNN that Conyers made three sexual advances toward her when she worked for him in his district office in Detroit from 1997 to 2005. Through his lawyer, Conyers also denied wrongdoing in that case.
Conyers stepped down from his position as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday.
Weiner said he was going to recommend that Conyers hold a town hall in Detroit on how should men and women act in the workplace: "And let him say, I want to learn, I want to do better, and let him have that kind of a learning experience."
Weiner, who also helped set up Conyers' leadership PAC, said the mood in the congressman's office is "very depressed" and current staffers are hoping he can complete his term amid growing pressure to resign.
"His staff is very depressed and think that people are trying to make the die cast against him, and everybody's trying to work out statements of what to say that's the right thing to say and it's very complicated," he said. "People are hoping that the die hasn't been cast too far too soon already, and as I said, the staff is hoping very much that, at a minimum, that he gets the chance to complete his term as a member of Congress. That's the objective right now of the staff."