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Al Franken tells New Yorker he regrets resigning from Senate

J. Patrick Coolican, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Sen. Al Franken, who resigned in late 2017 after multiple women accused him of unwanted touching or kissing, received a measure of redemption Monday with the release of a lengthy article in The New Yorker that questions the severity and circumstances of the allegations.

Seven current and former senators told reporter Jane Mayer that they regret calling for the Minnesota Democrat's resignation, among them former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

Franken, in his first interview since leaving the Senate, said he regrets resigning: "Oh, yeah. Absolutely."

The bulk of the magazine article takes up the accusation made by Leeann Tweeden, now a conservative media figure, who made the first allegation that led to Franken's downfall. In a photo that eventually doomed Franken, he can be seen reaching for her breasts while she is asleep while wearing a flak jacket aboard a military plane on the way home from a USO tour to entertain soldiers.

Tweeden also alleged that Franken wrote a skit with her in mind in which she was forced to kiss him. She also alleged that he gave her an ugly, unwanted open-mouth kiss during a "rehearsal."

But several actresses recall to The New Yorker that they performed the same skit with Franken in prior years -- and without incident -- calling into question Tweeden's claim that Franken wrote it for her alone.

The radio station where Tweeden worked also released the piece about her allegations without reaching out to Franken, a violation of basic journalistic practice.

Tweeden declined to comment for the magazine article.

 

A number of women who worked on Franken's staff describe him as physically clumsy and prone to giving awkward hugs and kisses, but in no way predatory.

Although he had agreed to a Senate ethics investigation of his behavior, Democrats were battling in late 2017 for an Alabama Senate seat in which Roy Moore had been accused of serious sexual misconduct with underage girls. Mayer's piece implies Democratic senators who forced out Franken had the Alabama special election on the mind.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was the first to call for Franken's resignation and has tried to pitch this as a principled stand against sexual harassment, but she has struggled to gain traction in her presidential campaign.

Even if the New Yorker piece rehabilitates Franken's image, his future in Minnesota politics is unclear. He lives in the congressional district of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has become a national figure and significant fundraiser. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith is running for a full six-year term in 2020, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar just won a six-year term in 2018.

(c)2019 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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