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Sen. Al Franken to resign following harassment claims

Jennifer Brooks and Maya Rao, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken said he would resign from the U.S. Senate on Thursday following mounting allegations of sexual harassment and loss of support by fellow Democrats, a stunning and rapid fall for a Minnesota politician who followed decades as a successful TV comic with a rise to the highest echelons of U.S. political power.

"Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the issues they face every day," Franken said in speech late Thursday morning on the floor of the U.S. Senate. He said he would resign "in the coming weeks."

Franken said that "I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator, nothing, has brought dishonor on this institution." But he said he determined he could no longer be an effective senator for Minnesota.

While stressing he wanted to be respectful of what he called a broader conversation about mistreatment of women by powerful men, Franken sought to clear his name of the allegations against him.

"I know there's been a very different picture of me painted through the last few weeks, but I know who I really am," Franken said. Of the claims against him by more than half a dozen women, he said: "Some of the allegations aren't true. Others I remember differently."

And he sought to draw a distinction between himself and two Republicans also accused of mistreatment of women, President Donald Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

"I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape of his history of sexual assault is in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls has the full support of his party," Franken said.

Franken's resignation has major ramifications for Minnesota politics. Gov. Mark Dayton will appoint a replacement for his fellow DFLer, and the seat will then be on the ballot in November 2018. That means both of Minnesota's U.S. Senate seats and the governor's office will be up for election last year.

A Democratic source told the Star Tribune that Dayton is likely to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, and that she is not expected to run in the special election.

Franken, who had been a vocal champion of women's rights and a popular, in-demand spokesman for various progressive causes, found himself caught up in a growing cultural movement around outing bad behavior toward women by men in positions of power. By abandoning Franken along with former U.S. Rep. John Conyers, who resigned earlier this week, Democrats are drawing a distinction between their party and Republicans at a time when Trump has thrown his full weight behind Moore, accused of sexual abuse of underage girls.

As new allegations surfaced against Franken on Wednesday, he suddenly faced an abrupt, stunning series of demands that he resign from more than half his fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate. With senators including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer all calling for him to step down, Franken's continued presence in the Senate became nearly untenable.

"We must commit to zero tolerance -- which is where I believe we as a country and Congress should be -- and that means Senator Franken should step down," North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp tweeted Wednesday.

The first account of unwanted touching by Franken came from Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio broadcaster who was part of a 2006 USO tour to entertain U.S. troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan. She said that Franken -- who was not yet a senator at the time -- kissed her against her will while they were rehearsing a comedy skit, and she also produced a photograph of Franken grinning while his hands hovered near her breasts as she slept.


Franken had initially resisted calls to resign, instead saying he would welcome an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee into his own behavior. But Tweeden's story was followed by a series of allegations aired by a series of national media outlets, including two women who went to CNN with reports that Franken had groped them as he posed for photographs with them.

Lindsay Menz, a Texas woman, said that Franken had firmly grabbed her backside while they were posing together for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010 -- after he'd become a U.S. senator. And Stephanie Kemplin, an Ohio veteran, said Franken cupped her breast as they prepared to pose for a photograph in Iraq in 2003, while Franken was on another USO tour.

This week, a former Democratic congressional aide said Franken tried to kiss her against her will in 2006, and invoked his status as a celebrity when she refused. Franken strongly denied the allegations, but the calls for resignation from his colleagues started piling up soon after.

After eight years in the Senate, Franken had emerged as a powerful voice on progressive causes and forceful critic of the Trump administration, frequently generating national headlines with aggressive questioning of Trump's Cabinet officers. He was a star attraction for the Democratic Party, raising millions of dollars for candidates around the country and appearing frequently on nationally broadcast talk shows and in other high-profile venues.

Franken's celebrity preceded his political career. He was hired as a staff writer for "Saturday Night Live" in its first season in 1975, and quickly became a regular on-air performer as well. He served two long stints on the show's staff, the second ending in 1995. After that, he published several bestselling books of political satire from a liberal point of view, and hosted a nationally syndicated radio show for several years.

Franken, 66, was born in New York City, but his family moved to Minnesota when he was a young child. He lived in St. Louis Park and graduated from the Blake School. He launched his political career in 2007, running for the Senate seat once held by his political idol, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

After an intensely fought race against Republican Sen. Norm Coleman that ended in a near-tie, Franken prevailed after two recounts and a lengthy lawsuit. He finally joined the U.S. Senate in July 2009. He was reelected by a much wider margin in 2014. Franken and his wife, Franni Bryson, were married in 1975. They have two adult children and several grandchildren.

Franken thanked his family in his resignation speech, calling it "a tough few weeks for me but I am a very lucky man. I have a beautiful family that loves me very much. I'm going to be just fine."

(c)2017 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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