In the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct from eight women, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that he will resign his office “in the coming weeks.”
Franken said that he was not admitting to the allegations against him. “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently,” he said. But, he added, it’s become clear that he can no longer be “an effective senator” — so he’ll step down.
Questions about Franken’s conduct were first publicly raised by Leeann Tweeden, who said Franken had forcibly kissed her during rehearsal for an event and later groped her while she slept.
After that, four other women came forward to say that Franken touched them inappropriately during photo ops. Another claimed that he tried to give her a “wet, open-mouthed kiss” during an onstage event. On Wednesday morning a seventh woman came forward and said Franken tried to block her exit from a room so he could attempt to forcibly kiss her. And on Wednesday afternoon, an eighth woman came forward with yet another story of inappropriate touching by Franken during a photo op.
Franken’s responses to the various allegations have varied — he’s outright denied one, claimed to have a different memory of others, and issued vague non-denials of others. And he had initially hoped to hold on to his seat as a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into the allegations proceeded.
But a group of women Democratic senators — Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Mazie Hirono (HI), Claire McCaskill (MO), Maggie Hassan (NH), Patty Murray (WA), and Kamala Harris (CA) — dashed those hopes. The six came all came forward to call for Franken’s resignation Wednesday morning, within a matter of minutes of one another.
As the day went on, many other Democratic senators added their voices to the chorus — amounting to half the caucus by mid-afternoon. In response, Franken staffers put out word that he’d make an announcement about his political future on Thursday. And on Thursday, he confirmed that he’d step down.
Franken’s seat will be filled temporarily by an appointee chosen by Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton. A special election to fill out the final two years of Franken’s term will be added to the November 2018 midterm docket.
Leeann Tweeden was the first woman to come forward and allege misconduct by Franken
The scandal kicked off when Leeann Tweeden, a radio host for KABC in Los Angeles, came forward to allege misconduct by Franken. She recounted having to perform a skit with Franken, who has served in the US Senate since 2009, and said the then-comedian forcibly kissed her during a rehearsal and then posed in a photograph groping her while she slept.
According to Tweeden’s account, Franken, a former Saturday Night Live cast member, wrote a skit with a kissing scene for the two of them while performing for troops in the Middle East. He insisted on the two of them rehearsing the kiss, despite Tweeden’s resistance, at which point, she says, “he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
“I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time,” Tweeden writes. “I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth. I felt disgusted and violated.”
Tweeden wrote her story for the KABC website, at the end of which she addressed Franken directly:
Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.
You wrote the scene that would include you kissing me and then relentlessly badgered me into “rehearsing” the kiss with you backstage when we were alone.
You knew exactly what you were doing. You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed.
In Franken’s initial response to Tweeden’s story, he said he didn’t remember the rehearsal in the same way and chalked up the photograph to a failed attempt at comedy.
Seven other women then come forward and alleged groping or attempted unwanted kissing from Franken
After Tweeden’s story, four more women came forward and accused Franken of inappropriately touching them during photo ops.
Lindsay Menz told CNN that the senator grabbed her butt while the two of them were taking a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. (This is the only allegation about misconduct committed while Franken was in elected office.) CNN’s M.J. Lee reported:
As her husband held up her phone and got ready to snap a photo of the two of them, Franken "pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear," Menz said. "It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek."
Menz said she told family members at the time, and had posted on Facebook about the incident:
Menz posted the photo with Franken on Facebook at the time, on August 27, 2010. Her sister, Cari Thunker, commented under the photo: "Sorry, but you two aren't Bibles (sic) width apart" -- a reference, Thunker explained to CNN, to how physically close Menz and Franken were in the photo.
Menz responded to her sister on Facebook: "Dude -- Al Franken TOTALLY molested me! Creeper!" (The exchange is visible to Menz's Facebook friends.)
Franken responded by saying he doesn’t remember the photograph — "I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don't remember taking this picture” — but that he feels “badly” that the woman felt “disrespected.”
Then the Huffington Post’s Jenavieve Hatch and Zachary Roth reported that two other women, both of whom wished to remain anonymous, said Franken groped their behinds during photo ops. Both alleged incidents occurred before the former Saturday Night Live star became a US senator, but after he had begun his campaign.
One woman, a 38-year-old book editor, said Franken touched her when she posed for a photo with him after a performance at the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus in Minneapolis in June 2007. “I saw him and asked if we could take a photo together for my mother, and we stood next to each other ... and down his hand went,” she told HuffPost.
The second woman said she met Franken at a Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis in the fall of 2008. She recounted that she and a friend approached Franken and asked for a picture. The woman said the then-candidate put his arm around her waist for the photo, and then lowered his hand and “cupped” her butt:
In order to escape the situation, the woman excused herself to go to the bathroom. At that point, she said, Franken leaned in and suggested that he accompany her. She grabbed her friend and fled to the bathroom without him.
Franken, in a statement to HuffPost, denied that part of the story: “I can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom.” As for the allegations that he touched the women, the Minnesota lawmaker said it was “difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events.”
And in another story by CNN’s M.J. Lee, Stephanie Kemplin, an Army veteran, said Franken groped her breast during a photo op that took place while he was on a USO tour in 2003.
"When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast. He kept his hand all the way over on my breast," Kemplin told Lee. She said the touching lasted five to 10 seconds and that “it was long enough that he should have known if it was an accident.” (Franken’s spokesperson again said Franken “never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.”)
Jezebel’s Anna Merlan also reported that another woman — a former elected official in New England who asked to remain anonymous — claims that Franken tried to give her a “wet, open-mouthed kiss” during a 2006 onstage event.
“I reached out my hand to shake his. He took it and leaned toward me with his mouth open. I turned my head away from him and he landed a wet, open-mouthed kiss awkwardly on my cheek,” the former elected official told Merlan. “I was stunned and incredulous. I felt demeaned. I felt put in my place.”
Then on Wednesday morning, a former Democratic congressional aide became a seventh accuser, telling Politico’s Heather Caygle that Franken tried to block her exit from a taping of his radio show in 2006 as he attempted to forcibly kiss her.
“He was between me and the door and he was coming at me to kiss me. It was very quick and I think my brain had to work really hard to be like ‘Wait, what is happening?’ But I knew whatever was happening was not right and I ducked,” the aide told Politico. “I was really startled by it and I just sort of booked it towards the door and he said, ‘It’s my right as an entertainer.’” (Franken has denied this allegation outright.)
Finally, an eighth accuser came forward Wednesday afternoon. In an article published by the Atlantic, former Democratic Hill staffer and media commentator Tina Dupuy said Franken touched her inappropriately during a photo op at a party in 2009. “He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice,” Dupuy wrote.
Democrats turned on Franken — eventually
When Tweeden and the other first few accusers against Franken came forward in mid-November, it initially seemed the senator had a chance of weathering the storm. Nearly three weeks passed without a single one of Franken’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate calling for his ouster. The party seemed content with waiting for the Ethics Committee to look into things.
But in the interim, three things happened.
First, more Franken accusers just kept coming forward — making the allegations increasingly difficult to dismiss.
Second, the Democratic Party came under intense criticism for its seeming refusal to stand by its stated principles regarding sexual harassment. Despite many accusers coming forward against both Franken and then-Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the party was slow to act. (Conyers eventually agreed to resign under pressure earlier this week.)
Third, the Alabama Senate special election — whose Republican nominee, Roy Moore, has been accused of sexually assaulting an underage girl — kept drawing nearer. And though Democratic nominee Doug Jones has a surprisingly good chance of winning in the deep-red state, recent polls have suggested that enough GOP voters are rallying behind Moore to give him the victory. Altogether, the Democratic Party looked hypocritical on sexual harassment, as Dara Lind pointed out last week.
So finally — specifically, in the wake of the seventh accuser coming forward Wednesday morning — the dam broke. The statements calling for Franken’s resignation from several of the caucus’s most prominent women proved to be too much pressure for him to withstand.