Al Franken

Name: Al Franken

Age: 

Role: Former U.S. Senator (D-MN)

Accusations: Franken has been accused of “butt-groping” and other unwanted touching by a total of 8 female constituents and colleagues.

Consequences for his actions: Franken’s Democratic colleagues called for his resignation on Dec 6, 2017, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and including Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Franken announced his resignation on Dec 7, to take effect before the end of the year.

Franken’s Response: Franken’s responses have been numerous. Immediately after the first allegation came out (leveled by Lee Ann Tweeden), he posted a response to Facebook that got a lot of blowback, so he posted a revised statement a few hours later. Franken then issued statements in response to each of the subsequent accusations that came out over the course of the next 2 weeks. And finally, on the day he announced his resignation from the Senate, he made a speech on the Senate floor that was effectively a summary statement regarding the allegations against him.

Franken’s Accusers

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Summary of Events

Franken was first accused on Nov 16, 2017 by radio show host Lee Ann Tweeden of “groping and forcibly kissing” her while they were on a USO tour together in the Middle East in 2004.

A second accuser came forward a couple days later, saying Franken had “groped her butt” in a photo opp at a Minnesota State Fair when he was first running for Senate.

This was followed by a number of other accusers, both named and anonymous, who alleged Senator Franken had committed similar acts of inappropriate touching in the years prior to being elected to the Senate. All in all, his total accusers came to 9

Franken issued a statement in response to each new allegation that all basically took the position that he was sorry for ways that his behavior had made women uncomfortable, but that he largely remembered the events differently than they were being reported.

Calls for Franken to Resign

While he resisted calls for his resignation for weeks, he finally gave a speech on Dec 7, 2017 on the floor of the Senate, saying he would be resigning. This was in response to a chorus of his Democratic colleagues, led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who all came out en masse on Dec 6, calling for his resignation. 

Franken’s forced resignation added a huge log to the already raging fire of controversy over sexual harassment allegations of elected officials in this country. 

Republican vs. Democratic responses to Sexual Harassment Allegations

As Franken noted in his resignation speech, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, a Republican, has been credibly accused of sexually harassing and assaulting as many as 20 women; and a man running for Senator of Alabama Roy Moore (who was later defeated in that race by Democrat Doug Jones) had been accused of assault and inappropriate conduct with 9 women, some of whom were young teenagers when the 30-year-old Moore came onto them.

Both of these men vehemently denied all accusations against them, and their party and most fellow Republicans were standing staunchly by their side. 

Other lawmakers were grappling with accusations of misconduct at the same time: 

  • Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa) had resigned in October, after it became known that the staunch anti-abortion conservative, also a married father of one, had been pressuring his girlfriend to have an abortion. 
  • Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) announced on Dec 5 that he would be resigning, more than a week after a female colleague accused him of years of sexually harassing her  
  • Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz) announced on Dec 7 that he would be resigning, several days after 2 staffers had accused him of repeatedly asking them to serve as surrogates for his wife   
  • Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev) announced on Dec 15 he would not seek re-election, after accusations of sexual misconduct with female colleagues had been published on Dec 1 
  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tx) was caught up in a sex scandal that broke on Nov 22, causing him to announce on Nov 30 that he would not seek re-election in 2018. 
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tx) had settled a sexual harassment claim from a staffer back in 2014, but on Dec 1 it was revealed that he had used taxpayer money to pay her off 
  • Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa) is the only lawmaker whose sexual harassment troubles came to light after Franken had announced his resignation, in January 2018.  

Yet here was Senator Al Franken – a staunch progressive ally of women, and a powerful force to be reckoned with in the Senate – being forced to resign his seat, just because he had touched a few butts more than a decade ago? 

How did this happen? 

Political Gamesmanship

It’s been suggested that Democrats in the Senate were gearing up to make the case that Roy Moore was unfit to be a Senator; and that if he won the Alabama Senate race (as he was favored to do) they planned to try and unseat him, as a way of shrinking the Republican majority in that body. 

In preparation for that move, Democratic lawmakers were eager to present themselves as holding the moral high ground on this issue. If they were going to insist that Moore was unfit to hold office on grounds that he was a sexual predator, then they’d be hypocrites if they didn’t demand that Franken (along with Rep. John Conyers, the other Democratic lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct) step down as well. 

Never mind the fact that of the 10 national political figures accused of sexual harassment and assault in 2017, 7 were Republicans; and only 2 (Trent Franks and Tim Murphy) immediately resigned their seats. 

It should be noted that Al Franken was widely rumored to be considering a Presidential bid in 2020. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Senator who led the call for Franken to resign, is also said to be considering a Presidential bid. This has led many to speculate that Gillibrand’s call for Franken’s resignation was heavily tainted by self-interest

Lessons Learned

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), in her speech calling for Franken’s resignation, said, “when we have to start talking about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation.” 

WRONG!!!! 

Especially when it comes to appropriate consequences, that is the most important conversation to be having. 

  • There is a difference between putting your hand on a woman’s butt in a photograph and asking a female subordinate to stroke your penis. 
  • There is a difference between doing sexually inappropriate things a decade ago, before you were elected to office, and doing them a month ago while sitting in your Congressional office in D.C. 
  • There is a difference between insisting that all your accusers are liars and shame-facedly taking responsibility for your bad behavior, while apologizing to them over and over again. 
  • There is a difference between being a staunch progressive ally for women’s rights and being a misogynistic 1950’s throwback who wants to treat women as second class citizens with less earning power than men. 

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Tweeden’s Twitter image

Lee Ann Tweeden

For more detailed information about Lee Ann Tweeden’s accusations and their credibility, click here

Franken’s first accuser was radio host and former model, Lee Ann Tweeden. She published her story, “Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, And There’s Nothing Funny About It,” in this KABC blog post, on November 16, 2017. 

Accusation: Tweeden’s accusation against Franken is that during rehearsal for their first show in Kuwait at the very start of their 2-week USO trip together in 2006, Franken forced an unwelcome kiss on her. Tweeden also published a photograph of Franken’s hands hovering over her breasts, while she appeared to be asleep. 

Many have questioned the veracity of Tweeden’s allegations, as well as her motivations for lying about a strong Democratic Senator. Those stem from the fact that Republican operative and Trump ally Rodger Stone tweeted that Franken was about to be accused of “grabby” behavior, hours before Tweeden published her accusations.  

It should be noted that a whole slew of people attacked Lee Ann Tweeden’s credibility on the grounds that she used to make a living wearing next to no clothing. But that is a completely inappropriate attack on her. ALL women – no matter how much clothing they might or might not wear, or the sexual behavior they might willingly engage in from time to time – have the right to say NO to any sexual behavior that is not welcome. 

Lindsay Menz

The country had spent the weekend whipping itself into a froth over Tweeden’s allegations against Franken, with many people on the left concluding that Franken was innocent and that Tweeden was a liar (using the argumetns I outlined above), while many on the right insisted that liberals were just defending one of their own in a grotesque display of hypocrisy. 

Then on Monday we got the bombshell: a second Franken accuser!!

Accusation: Menz said Franken groped her bottom during a photo opp at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, in an interview with MJ Lee on 11/20/17 for her story, Woman Says Franken Inappropriately Touched Her in 2010, in CNN Politics. 

Then on Nov 22, 2017, just 2 days after the Menz accusation, the Huffington Post published an article by Jenavieve Hatch and Zachary Roth, reporting that 2 more women had accused Franken of inappropriate sexual behavior – but these 2 were anonymous. 

Anonymous Accuser #1

Accusation: During a photo opp on June 25, 2007, at an event in Minneapolis hosted by the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus, Franken grabbed her butt. 

Role: constituent 

Response: “I’m someone who, you know, hugs people,” Franken told Minnesota Public Radio. “I’ve learned from these stories that in some of these encounters I have crossed the line for some women.”

Anonymous Accuser #2

Accusation: Franken cupped her butt during a Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis in 2008, and then suggested they visit a bathroom together. 

Response: “I can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom,” Franken told Huffington Post.

Franken responded to these 3rd and 4th allegations on November 26 by giving a series of interviews (see the Response tab, above) in which he repeated his apologies, but affirmed his desire for an ethics investigation, implying he felt that he would be found more or less innocent after such an investigation. He also stated unwaveringly that he intended to hold onto his Senate seat. 

Ten days had passed and the dust seemed to be settling when news broke of two more accusers, one named and one anonymous. Their accusations were similar to the previous ones – an unwelcome kiss and a photo opp in which the Senator got handsy. 

Stephanie Kemplin

Accusation: During a photo opp in Kuwait in 2003, Franken groped her breast from the side. 

Role: Military Police Officer serving in Kuwait when Franken came to visit with the USO in 2003 

Reported by CNN  on Nov 30, 2017

Anonymous Accuser #3

Accusation: Franken gave her an unwelcome, “wet, open-mouthed kiss” during an event. In their reporting, Jezebel confirms that the woman told more than one person about the incident at the time. 

Role: She was an elected official who appeared on a guest of Franken’s radio show when they taped in her community in 2006. 

Response: Franken made no specific response to this allegation. 

Reported in Jezebel on Nov 30, 2017 

Then a week later two more accusations became public. And even though these were the least credible or serious of the bunch (one accusation was that he squeezed a woman’s waist, and another was that he tried to kiss her insisting it was his right as an entertainer) they were clearly the straws that broke the camel’s back. That same day is when Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for Franken to step down, followed in rapid succession by a majority of Senate Democrats (see more on the Consequences tab, above)

Tina Dupuy 

Accusation: “He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.” Dupuy writes in The Atlantic, “I believe Franken’s accusers because he groped me too,” by Tina Dupuy, Dec 6, 2017.

Relationship: a budding journalist working for Media Matters, whose inauguration party (Obama’s 1st) Franken attended  

I believe lot of people didn’t even bother to learn the details about this accusation. It was just another accusation, and that’s all people really cared about. Including even those who had been supporting him up until that point. 

Which is unfortunate, because the accusation is that he squeezed her waist?!?! In what world is that sexual harassment? She leveled it for one reason and one reason only: so that she would get more people to read the story she wanted to tell about this moment in sexual harassment history.

She all but admits it in the final paragraph, when she says that a cryptic tweet she sent – one in which she did NOT accuse a Senator of groping her – only got one retweet. And this “story” of hers presented her with a chance to get thousands more eyeballs than anything else she’s ever written. 

Because she’s not just a fan, or someone looking for a financial settlement. Rather, she’s just a journalist who’s tired of writing interesting pieces that no one ever reads, and she saw her moment in the spotlight.

Further evidence for this is that her “story” is only tangentially about her own experience with Franken. Mostly it’s her journalistic perspective on everything that got us to this #metoo moment. It’s a decent piece, I don’t blame her for wanting more people to read it. But throwing a good Senator under the bus in pursuit of her own 15 minutes of fame? No bueno. 

Anonymous Accuser #4

Accusation: Franken tried to kiss her at the end of the taping of his radio show one day. She claims he said, “It’s my right as an entertainer.” 

Role: former Democratic congressional aide

Response: “This allegation is categorically not true and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous. I look forward to fully cooperating with the ongoing ethics committee investigation,” he told Politico. 

Reported in Politico , by Heather Caygle, Dec 6, 2017

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On Dec. 6, 2017 a wave of Democratic elected officials, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for Franken to resign. Here is the full list, with their individual calls for his resignation, as published by Politico. 

“I think when we have to start talking about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation. You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is okay.”

Franken gave an 11-minute speech on the floor of the Senate on Thursday morning, December 7, 2017 in which he announced he would be resigning within the month. 

Read the full transcript, with annotations, on the Washington Post, by Amber Phillips. Or watch the video below. 

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Franken’s initial response to Tweeden’s allegations was brief, possibly written by a staffer: “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Al Franken’s 2nd official statement in response to the Lee Ann Tweeden accusations, after his first apology earlier in the day had been very poorly received.

After 3 more accusers came forward, Franken sort of went into hiding, and wasn’t seen publicly for a couple weeks. Then on November 26 he decided to tell the world he wasn’t resigning in a couple of interviews in Minnesota – one with WCCO’s Esme Murphy and another with MPR’s Cathy Wurzer. 

Franken talks to MPR’s Cathy Wurzer on Nov 26, 2017

Two more accusers came forward on November 26, that Franken didn’t really respond to. 

When news broke on Dec 6 that there were two more accusers, that’s when Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called for him to step down, followed quickly that same day by a majority of Democratic Senators. That led to Franken’s resignation speech on Dec. 7.

See both Gillibrand’s and Franken’s speeches on the Consequences tab, above.

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Panel Discussion on Bill Maher with Chelsea Handler, Max Brooks, Carl Bernstein, Rebecca Traister

I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign, by Kate Harding in the Washington Post, Nov 17, 2017.  

SNL Women Offer Solidarity in Support of Franken – statement signed by 36 past and current female employees of SNL 

Female former staffers come to his defense, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Nov 19, 2017. 

“Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”

Signing the statement were Katherine Blauvelt, Lianne Endo, Alexandra Fetissoff, Rachel Friedlander-Holm, Jessi Held, Anna Henderson, Lisbeth Kaufman, Natalie Volin Lehr, Jamie Drogin Lehman, Rachel Pike Norton, Karen Saxe, Charlotte Slaiman, Bethany Snyder, Ashley White.

136 female community leaders including current and former elected officials, non-profit board members, community leaders, and members of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party released the following statement in support of Franken on November 26, after his interviews announcing he’d be fighting to regain Minnesotan’s trust and to stay in his Senate seat: 

“We are longtime supporters of Senator Franken, and our support is rooted in the core values that we share. During his time in the Senate he has been a champion for these values and a steadfast supporter of women’s rights. While we are disappointed by these allegations, we appreciate that he has apologized and is committed to regaining the trust of Minnesotans. We believe a Senate investigation into these allegations is the appropriate course of action and will continue to support the Senator throughout this process.”

As published by PoliticsUSA.com on Dec 3, 2017 – including the names of all the women. 

After Franken resigned, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the senior senator from Franken’s home state of Minnesota, released this statement

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