Minnesota Sen. Al Franken said he feels “embarrassed and ashamed” amid allegations that he groped several women, but said he looks forward to returning to work on Monday and gradually regaining voters’ trust.
The Democrat spoke to a handful of Minnesota media outlets on Sunday in the first interviews he’s granted since being swept into a nationwide tide of sexual misconduct allegations. Franken’s staff didn’t respond to repeated interview requests from The Associated Press.
Four women have accused the U.S. senator of sexual misconduct, including three who say Franken grabbed their buttocks while taking photos with them during campaign events. Franken told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday that he doesn’t remember the photos, but such groping is “not something I would intentionally do.”
Asked whether he expected other women to step forward with similar allegations, Franken said: “If you had asked me two weeks ago, ‘Would any woman say I had treated her with disrespect?’ I would have said no. So this has just caught me by surprise. … I certainly hope not.”
‘Not something I would intentionally do’
The first woman to come forward was Los Angeles radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden. She released a photo this month showing the then-comedian grinning while reaching out as if to grope her as she slept on a military aircraft during a USO tour in 2006. Tweeden said Franken also forcibly kissed her while rehearsing for a USO performance; Franken has said he has a different recollection of the rehearsal.
Franken told Minnesota Public Radio on Sunday the photo was “inexcusable,” but he declined to explain it further.
“What my intention was doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am chained to that photo,” Franken said. “She … didn’t have any ability to consent. She had every right to feel violated by that photo. I have apologized to her and I was very grateful that she accepted my apology.”
Another woman, Lindsay Menz, alleges Franken pulled her in closely and squeezed her buttocks while they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two other women, speaking anonymously to the Huffington Post, said Franken grabbed their buttocks during political events in 2007 and 2008, during his first Senate campaign.
“I don’t remember these photographs. I don’t,” he said Sunday, estimating he has taken “tens of thousands” of photos with other people over the years. “This is not something I would intentionally do.”
Franken faces a Senate ethics investigation — which he welcomed in the wake of Tweeden’s allegation — though it’s unclear when that review may begin. Franken said he will fully co-operate and hasn’t faced widespread calls to resign.
Franken sidestepped questions on Sunday about whether the allegations would make him less effective in the Senate or become a distraction for key Democratic issues. He noted he has apologized to women who have felt disrespected and “to everyone I have let down.”
In August 2010, @alfranken grabbed me while taking a photo together at the Minnesota State Fair. I felt violated & embarassed. I 100% believe your account of him & his actions, @LeeannTweeden. Thank you for sharing your story. #metoo
“I think this will take some time,” he told Minnesota Public Radio. “I am trying to handle this in a way that adds to an important conversation. And to be a better public servant and a better man. That is what my goal is.”
Franken came to the Senate after a months-long recount gave him a 312-vote victory in his 2008 election. He immediately tried to distance himself from his decades of professional comedy, which included off-colour jokes about rape and disparaging women, and avoided national reporters.
Dozens of women who’ve worked with Franken, including former Senate staffers and women who worked with him on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, signed statements supporting Franken following Tweeden’s allegations.