Sen. Al Franken says he will resign over sexual harassment charges, but denies misconduct

US Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, speaks outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 27, 2017.
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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 sensitive to 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."

Many of the allegations predate 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.

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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 will become 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.

The latest report, 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." 

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, including with the senator and his wife at Schumer’s apartment in Washington, according to a Senate aide who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The female Democratic women of the Senate 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 accused child molester Roy 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.