Yuri Gripas / Reuters
Democratic Sen. Al Franken announced Thursday he would resign “in the coming weeks” following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, making him the second member of Congress to say he would leave office this week as revelations about sexual harassment grip Capitol Hill and other industries.
“Today I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate,” Franken said in a speech on the Senate floor.
“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently,” Franken added.
The allegations, from seven women, date back to as early as 2003, when Franken was still a comedian, to his early years in the Senate, and include claims of unwanted kissing and groping.
On Wednesday, Franken faced growing calls to resign from Senate colleagues after Politico reported that he had allegedly tried to forcibly kiss a Democratic aide in 2006, before he was a senator, and that he told the young woman: “It’s my right as an entertainer.” In a statement to Politico, Franken categorically denied the allegation, but several Democratic senators called on him to step down that day, as well as Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez.
“While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve,” New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand wrote in a Facebook post.
The first allegation came in mid-November from Los Angeles news anchor Leeann Tweeden, who wrote in a post for KABC radio that while the pair were on a USO tour entertaining US troops in the Middle East, Franken forcibly kissed her and later groped her breasts while she was asleep. Tweeden also shared a photo of the groping incident.
Franken initially cast doubt on Tweeden’s recollection of the rehearsal during which he kissed her, but later issued a more detailed apology and said he would cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation requested by a bipartisan chorus of senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Since then, more women have come forward with accusations against Franken, who was first elected to the Senate in 2008. Lindsay Menz told CNN Franken grabbed her buttocks while they took a photo together at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two unnamed women subsequently accused Franken of similar behaviour at events during his first Senate run, according to the Huffington Post.
“My immediate reaction was disgust,” one of the women, who met Franken at a Democratic fundraising event in 2008, told the Huffington Post. “But my secondary reaction was disappointment. I was excited to be there and to meet him. And so to have that happen really deflated me.”
The woman also accused Franken of asking her to join him in the bathroom, which Franken denies.
A fifth woman, army veteran Stephanie Kemplin, accused Franken of cupping her breast in 2003 while the two took a photo together in Kuwait, where she was deployed and Franken was performing on another USO tour. And a former elected official in New England, who spoke anonymously to Jezebel, accused Franken of giving her a “wet, open-mouthed kiss” without her consent in 2006.
Franken issued a statement in November saying he had “crossed a line” in his interactions with some women; at the time, only four women had accused him of misconduct.
“I’ve met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations,” Franken said in the statement to the Minnesota Star Tribune. “I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many.
“Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that. I’ve thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and recognize that I need to be much more careful and sensitive in these situations. I feel terribly that I’ve made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again.”
At a press conference more than a week after the first allegations against him surfaced, Franken apologized for disappointing people and said he felt ashamed — but, when asked about a possible resignation, said he wouldn’t “speculate on that.”
“If you had asked me two weeks ago, would any woman come forward with an allegation like this, I would have said ‘no,'” Franken said. “This has been a shock, and it’s been extremely humbling.”
“I am going to work to regain their trust,” he said at the time. “I am going to be accountable. We are going to cooperate completely with the ethics investigation.”
The accusations against Franken come as lawmakers grapple with growing allegations of sexual misconduct in Congress. Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the longest serving member of the House announced his resignation on Dec. 5, following multiple accusations of sexual harassment and a secret settlement to keep one staffer quiet, as first reported by BuzzFeed News.
BuzzFeed News also reported that a former campaign staffer to Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen left the campaign after the then-candidate allegedly sexually harassed her on multiple occasions. Kihuen has so far resisted calls for his resignation, including from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the chairman of the Democrats’ House campaign committee, Ben Ray Luján.