WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. said he plans to resign after more than a half dozen women came forward over the past several weeks with allegations that he touched them improperly or made unwanted sexual advances. Franken also disputed some of the accusations and suggested he is being held to a different standard than President Trump.
"A couple months ago I felt we had entered an important moment in the history of this country," Franken said on the Senate floor. "We were finally beginning to listen to women about the way mens' actions affect them," he said. "Then the conversation turned to me," said Franken. "I was shocked” but trying to be respectful of the women's feelings, he said.
"It gave some people the false impression I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done," he said, insisting "some of the allegations against me simply are not true."
Nevertheless, Franken said he would resign over the next several weeks.
Many of the allegations pre-date Franken's Senate career, but the former comedian and Saturday Night Live cast member had already apologized and said he would "gladly cooperate" with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of his behavior.
TV host Leeann Tweeden made the first allegations against Franken last month, and Franken's Democratic colleagues appeared to accept his apology and endorsement of the ethics probe. But as additional allegations emerged, Franken's support became tenuous, and on Wednesday dozens of Democratic senators — led by Democratic women — called for him to resign.
Franken became the second member of Congress to announce his resignation this week due to sexual harassment allegations. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., first elected to the House in 1964, stepped down Tuesday after several women accused him of harassment. Conyers has denied any misbehavior and said he was being denied due process.
In his speech, Franken noted that he had been prepared to submit to an ethics investigation and was defiant about his legacy. “I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator – nothing – has brought dishonor on this institution,” he said.
“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” said Franken. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore has been accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with teenage girls when he was in his 30s; Moore has denied any wrongdoing.
Inside the Senate chamber, staffers lined the wall and some were dabbing tears from their eyes. As he left, about 20 of his Democratic colleagues approached him for hugs and handshakes. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona was the only Republican who appeared to be in the chamber for the speech. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who was among the female senators who called on him to resign, was also seen wiping her eyes.
The latest allegations against Franken, which came from Politico, was based on an unidentified former congressional aide who said Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after her boss had left a broadcast studio. As she was collecting her belongings, the woman said she turned around to find Franken coming at her. As she ducked, she says he told her: "It's my right as an entertainer."
Franken, who was deferential to and apologized for his conduct to his first accuser, Tweeden, had a different response to the latest account. In a statement, Franken initially said the idea he would say such a thing was "preposterous."
The state's Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, now needs to appoint a successor to serve until there is a special election to fill the seat through the end of Franken's term in 2020. In a Thursday statement, Dayton said he expects to announce his decision "in the next couple of days." Among the possible Democrats who could replace Franken are Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Reps. Keith Ellison and Ken Walz.
Shortly after the Politico story broke on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called Franken and the two had several conversations throughout the day, according to a Senate aide who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The female Democratic senators had been talking among themselves prior to the latest revelations and decided that, if another accuser came forward, it would likely trigger their calls for resignation, the aide said. That process began within hours of the news report with a Facebook post by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; and after seven Democratic women had come forward, a male senators began to join in. By the end of the day, a majority of the Democratic caucus in the Senate had called for Franken to step down.
Franken’s predicament is the product of a national conversation about sexual harassment that’s swept from Hollywood to Washington D.C. Congress has been under scrutiny for failing to oust lawmakers as quickly as corporate America has penalized male executives accused of harassment. Female lawmakers including Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., have led the charge, claiming that congressional rules and culture have protected harassers from public scrutiny and discouraged their victims from coming forward.
With their unified condemnation of Franken, Democrats are also seeking to draw a contrast with Republicans who may soon be joined in the Senate by Moore, the GOP candidate for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. While many Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said they believe Moore's accusers, this week Trump endorsed Moore and the Republican National Committee gave him a cash infusion ahead of a Dec. 12 special election.
Further, Trump himself stands accused of similar behavior by a dozen women who came forward during the 2016 campaign with tales of groping and forced sexual encounters.
Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008 by a 312-vote margin that was disputed in the courts for months; though he won reelection in 2014 by 10 percentage points. Franken was a writer and cast member for Saturday Night Live for two decades, and during his first Senate campaign he repeatedly had to address lewd comedy pieces he had written or performed in.
Once he got to the Senate, Franken kept a more serious profile, rarely stopping in the hallways to chat up reporters or providing comedic relief at hearings. More recently he had become an outspoken critic of Trump and a tough questioner of his administration officials, including delivering a sharp cross-examination of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions about misleading comments Sessions made about a 2016 meeting with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
With reporting by Eliza Collins and Herb Jackson