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Franken denies some allegations, but plans resignation from U.S. Senate 'in a few weeks'

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 18, 2017. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was the first in what would become a chorus of Democratic senators to call for their Franken following sexual misconduct allegations. Tom Brenner / copyright 2017 The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Al Franken was one of the most recognized U.S. senators from the day he took office in 2009, thanks to fame he gained on the "Saturday Night Live" television show, and this year his political capital rose even more with Democrats across the country promoting him as a 2020 presidential candidate.

But eight women came forward in the past three weeks alleging that Franken sexually harassed them, collapsing what had become a successful political career.

In this age of #metoo female empowerment, Franken could not withstand the women's stories and on Thursday, Dec. 7, announced he would resign in the coming weeks.

"This decision is not about me, it is about people of Minnesota," Franken said during an 11-minute, 32-second speech on the Senate floor. "It has become clear that I cannot both pursue the ethics committee process and remain an effective senator for them."

Franken acknowledged no wrongdoing.

"Some of the allegations against me are simply not true," Franken said. "Others, I remember very differently."

The senator said he was misunderstood in earlier statements when he said he wanted to respect his accusers. "I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven’t done."

Franken said that as senator "I have used my power to be a champion for women, and that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day. I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks. But I know who I really am."

When Franken leaves the Senate, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will appoint Franken's replacement, who will serve until a new senator is elected in November of 2018. Shortly after Franken's speech, Dayton released a statement saying he will make a decision "in the next couple of days."

After Franken's speech, his Democratic Senate colleague, Amy Klobuchar, said: "Today Sen. Franken acknowledged that he could no longer serve in the Senate and resigned. As he and I discussed yesterday, this is the right decision."

Many Minnesota political leaders agreed Franken's decision was right.

"While sexual harassment and assault are dominating headlines recently, they have dominated the lives of women in our country for far too long," Chairman Ken Martin of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said Franken has accomplished much. "Al’s voice and vote were instrumental in extending health care to millions of Americans, helping our students succeed and upholding our commitments to tribal nations."

Franken said he has no regrets about running for Senate. "Even on the worst day of my political life, I feel it has all been worth it. ... I know that the work I have been able to do has improved people's lives. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."

The senator made it clear that he was not happy leaving when President Donald Trump and Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, both Republicans, have not been forced out after they, too, were accused of sexual misconduct.

Eight women accused Franken of improper contact, including trying to force them to kiss him and that he held onto their buttocks while photos were being taken.

The accusations began Nov. 16, when Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden posted her story about Franken forcing a kiss on her during a USO tour rehearsal and later having a picture of him taken with his hands over her breasts as she slept on a military airplane.

Other allegations came from women who accused Franken of sexual misconduct at the Minnesota State Fair, political events and other locations.

Soon after the latest allegations surfaced Wednesday, Democratic senators began demanding Franken's resignation. Within hours, more than half of Franken's Democratic Senate colleagues said he needed to leave. They were joined by top Democratic Party officials and some Minnesota Democrats.

Franken, 66, was born in New York but grew up in Albert Lea and St. Louis Park, Minn.

After leaving "Saturday Night LIve," he became a liberal radio talk show host and wrote books.

Among his books was "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." Like much of his writing, it was largely satirical.

His most recent book, released earlier this year, is "Al Franken: Giant of the Senate." The book was reviewed by the Washington Post with comments like "genuinely funny book, often hilarious. ...The Senate, and the country, would be the poorer without him. He's an American original."

Franken overcame criticism that his writing that offended women, to win a narrow U.S. Senate race in 2008. He won re-election by a bigger margin in 2014.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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