In an emotional speech on the Senate floor, Al Franken says he'll resign amid allegations of sexual misdeeds

Al Franken announced Thursday he will resign his Senate seat, falling to a whirlwind of sexual misconduct allegations like those that have enmeshed other politicians, business leaders and media figures across the country in recent months.

Hours later, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, a Republican who is the ideological opposite of the Minnesota Democrat, announced his resignation after the House Ethics Committee revealed it had opened an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against him. In a statement, Franks admitted he had asked two female subordinates about bearing a child for him by surrogacy.

In a brief but emotional speech on the Senate floor, with 22 Democratic colleagues and one Republican looking on, Franken invoked the accusations that have swirled around President Trump and the Republican candidate in next week’s special election for an Alabama seat in the Senate, Roy Moore.

“There is some irony that I am leaving while a man who bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who preyed on young girls runs for Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.

The criticism of Trump set the tone for an unusual resignation speech. Franken’s remarks did not include an apology — indeed, he appeared to have pulled back from a Nov. 16 statement in which he said he was “ashamed” of behavior that was “completely inappropriate” when it came to one of the women who has accused him of misconduct.

On Thursday, Franken said his past statements, in which he said women who raise such allegations should be heard, had given people “the false impression” that he was admitting guilt.

“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember differently,” he said. And he drew a distinction between behavior before he was sworn in in 2009 — most of the accusations were said to have occurred by then — and afterward.

“Nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution. And I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree,” he said.

The second-term senator once seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020 or beyond, earlier had said he would not resign but instead would submit to a Senate ethics investigation into his behavior.

On Thursday, however, he said he would leave office because “Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day.”

Franken did not set a specific day for his departure but said it would occur “in the coming weeks.”

His fate appeared sealed on Wednesday, when more than half of Senate Democrats issued calls for his resignation in an uprising led by female senators. That choreographed move came as yet another woman came forward to accuse Franken of unwanted advances before he was elected to the Senate, and Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York privately met with Franken to tell him the time had come to quit.

Franken made no mention of those demands in his remarks, other than to urge his colleagues to push back against Trump.

“I have faith, or at least hope, that members of this Senate will find the political courage necessary to keep asking the tough questions, hold this administration accountable, and stand up for the truth,” he said.

The resignation of Franken and Franks brought to three the number of lawmakers to step down this week in the rapidly spreading sexual misconduct scandal on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, the senior member of the House, Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, quit after multiple complaints by aides that he had sexually harassed them.

Neither of the latest resignations will change the balance of power in Congress. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, will appoint a replacement for Franken to serve until a special election can be held in November 2018.

In a statement, Dayton said that “events have unfolded quickly; thus, I have not yet decided” whom to appoint, but added that he would make an announcement “in the next couple of days.”

A major question for Dayton is whether to appoint a caretaker who would fill the seat but not run in November — allowing Democrats to compete in a primary on an even field — or name someone who could build a record over the next 11 months and run as an incumbent. Whoever wins the special election will hold the seat until what would have been the end of Franken’s second term, in January 2021.

Franks represents a heavily Republican district in the Phoenix suburbs.

Franken’s departure marks the end of a legislative career that began when he squeaked into office on an exceptionally narrow win — a 312-vote victory he mentioned Thursday — then was reelected more easily and emerged as a well-regarded member of the party’s growing liberal wing.

Franken had recent star turns on Capitol Hill: It was his questioning of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions at Sessions’ nomination hearing in early 2017 to become attorney general that spurred the Alabaman to assert that neither he nor others on the Trump campaign had any conversations with Russian officials during the campaign. That has been shown to be false.

A politician with an unusual entree into politics — an occasionally raunchy comedy career that included his years on “Saturday Night Live” — Franken’s fall was as swift as his rise.

The first claim against him came from Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden, who on Nov. 16 accused him of aggressively kissing and groping her during a 2006 USO tour of the Mideast in which the two worked as performers. She also made public a picture taken of Franken with his hands outstretched near her breasts while she slept on a military plane as the performers returned from overseas, as if mocking the act of groping her.

Franken issued two statements apologizing to Tweeden and expressing disappointment with his own actions.

“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” Franken said. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

Four days later, a woman named Lindsay Menz said that Franken placed his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a picture at the Minnesota state fair in 2010, when he was a senator.

Franken, in a statement, said that he had taken thousands of pictures at the fair and did not specifically remember Menz. He was sorry that she felt “disrespected,” he said.

Additional accusations continued through Wednesday, when Politico reported that a former congressional aide had come forward to claim that Franken had tried to kiss her when she accompanied her boss to an appearance on Franken’s radio show in 2006.

The allegations against Franken came as a conversation about sexual harassment has spiraled nationally. Since early October, when movie producer Harvey Weinstein was forced out of his company after accusations of sexual harassment, abuse and rape surfaced, charges of sexual misconduct have ended — or severely damaged — the careers of many prominent men. On Capitol Hill, women have recounted numerous incidents of groping and unwanted advances from men, including officeholders, and said that Congress does not sufficiently protect them.

Besides Conyers, Franks and Franken, Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada, another Democrat, has been accused of sexual aggression against a former campaign aide. He issued a limited apology and said he would not resign.

Another member of Congress, Texas Republican Blake Farenthold, is accused of harassing an aide who received an $84,000 taxpayer-financed settlement, which was revealed last week. The Ethics Committee announced on Thursday that it would open an investigation of his case as well.

Trump’s alleged behavior was a central issue in last year’s presidential campaign after more than a dozen women accused him of inappropriate behavior, including sexual assault. Trump has consistently denied the accusations, despite boasting on a 2005 video made by “Access Hollywood” of his ability to grope women in a predatory manner. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed again last month that the president contends that all of his accusers are lying.

In recent weeks, Trump flung insults at Franken via Twitter.

“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” Trump tweeted, misspelling the name of the fictional character, after Tweeden released the photo of Franken.

The Democrats’ handling of Franken unspooled slowly. Several senators immediately condemned him and said they would return campaign donations from Franken, who had transferred his pre-political celebrity into a high-profile fundraising role for party candidates. Few initially said that he should resign, instead either remaining silent or arguing that his case should be heard by the Ethics Committee.

The timing of the Franken accusations was highly uncomfortable, coming in the midst of a Democratic effort to defeat Moore, the Republican from Alabama who has been accused of making advances on and molesting teenagers as young as 14 when he was a local prosecutor in his 30s.

As the number of women accusing Franken rose, female Democratic senators in particular reached what one of them called a judgment that “enough is enough.” Risking party divisions, they unleashed their demands on Wednesday, and waited for a response.

In departing, Franken proved to be a party loyalist, as he sought to shift the focus on the freighted issue back onto Republicans.

For more on politics from Cathleen Decker »

cathleen.decker@latimes.com

Twitter: @cathleendecker

ALSO:

Franken to announce plans as cascade of Democrats demands his resignation over groping allegations

The latest from Washington

Updates on California politics

 


UPDATES:

4:30 p.m.: This article with updated with the news of Rep. Trent Franks’ resignation and other additional details.

11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with additional detail on Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s plans and other analysis.

9:30 a.m.: This article was updated with quotes from Franken’s speech.

The article was originally published at 9 a.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
49°