Pelosi faces backlash for questioning Conyers accusers

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is facing a backlash for defending Rep. John Conyers and even questioning those accusing him of sexual harassment during a Sunday interview.

Pelosi, D-Calif., touted Conyers, D-Mich., on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as an American icon.

“John Conyers is an icon in our country,” she said. “He has done a great deal to protect women.”

She added: “I believe he understands what’s at stake here. He will do the right thing.”

Pelosi said Conyers, and the women accusing him, were entitled to “due process,” but also asked: “I don’t know who they are—do you?”

Host Chuck Todd asked whether Pelosi believed the women alleging Conyers treated them inappropriately.

“That’s for the ethics committee to review,” she replied.

Pelosi’s interview drew harsh criticism on Twitter from those who accused her of playing party politics and focusing on “power.”

“Pelosi is a survivor and knows she can’t lose support in black caucus so she is gentle w Conyers. It’s always about power,” Chairman of the American Conservative Union Matt Schlapp tweeted Monday.

Political editor for and Fox News contributor Guy Benson pointed to Pelosi’s interview as an example of a “double standard” used by Democrats in regard to sexual harassment allegations. Benson cited Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of pursuing teenage girls when he was in his 30s, and even sexual assault -- claims he denies.

“I’m no Roy Moore defender, to put it mildly. But for those unable to comprehend why many conservative voters are willing to stand by him, look no further than Pelosi’s MTP performance today. Many GOP voters see Dems as ruthless defenders of power & are sick of double standards,” Benson tweeted Sunday.

Despite Pelosi’s defense of Conyers' record, she applauded the Democratic congressman's decision later Sunday to step down from his leadership position on the House Judiciary Committee while the Ethics Committee reviews the harassment allegations against him.

“Zero tolerance means consequences,” Pelosi said in a statement Sunday, noting that she asked for an ethics investigation into Conyers and that he “agreed to step aside” as ranking member on the committee.

“We are at a watershed moment on this issue, and no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment,” Pelosi said. “I commend the brave women coming forward.”

Pelosi’s statement seemed to add more fuel to the Twitter fire, as pundits and journalists pointed out the difference in tone from her comments earlier that day.

The 88-year-old Conyers is the longest-serving current House member.

The ethics committee announced last Tuesday that it began an investigation into Conyers, after receiving allegations of sexual harassment and age discrimination involving staff members and about the congressman using “official resources for impermissible personal purposes.”

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., denies allegations against him, but agreed to step aside from his leadership rank on House Judiciary Committee amid Ethics Committee probe.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., denies allegations against him, but agreed to step aside from his leadership rank on House Judiciary Committee amid Ethics Committee probe. (AP)

The announcement followed a BuzzFeed News report last Monday that Conyers’ office paid a woman more than $27,000 under a confidentiality agreement to settle a 2015 complaint that she was fired from Conyers’ staff for rejecting his sexual advances.

Also last week, Melanie Sloan, a lawyer who worked with Conyers on the House Judiciary Committee, alleged that she was called into Conyers’ office to discuss an issue and found him “walking around in his underwear.” It is unclear when the alleged incident occurred. She also claimed Conyers screamed at her, fired and re-hired her, and criticized her for not wearing stockings.

Conyers has continued to deny the allegations, but said he would fully cooperate in the probe.