'Embarrassed' Franken Speaks to Media, Says He Will Return to Work

November 27, 2017 07:34 AM

Sen. Al Franken talked with a few Minnesota media outlets on Sunday, marking his first interviews since the Democrat was swept into a nationwide tide of sexual harassment allegations.

Franken told the Star Tribune that he plans to return to work on Monday and is "embarrassed and ashamed" by the groping allegations levied against him. 

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At least four women have accused Franken of misconduct. Three of them say he grabbed their buttocks while taking photos with them during campaign events. Franken says he doesn't remember the photos and that such groping is "not something I would intentionally do."

RELATED: For Franken, a Rising Trajectory, and Then the Accusations

Franken says he's looking forward to returning to work in Congress. He missed votes after the first accusations were made public, but he believes he can gradually regain voters' trust. He has released several apologetic statements, but he spoke directly to journalists for the first time Sunday. 

"This whole thing has been embarrassing and difficult," Franken told Minnesota Public Radio news in an interview Sunday. 

He sidestepped questions about whether the allegations would make him less effective in the Senate or become a distraction for key Democratic issues. Franken said only that "this will take some time" and that he's trying to "handle this in a way that adds to an important conversation." He says his goal also is "to be a better public servant and a better man."

When asked if he had grabbed the buttocks of his accusers while taking photos with them, Franken said he would never intentionally do that. 

"What my intention was doesn't matter," he told MPR. "Some women said I had crossed the line, and for that I am very sorry ... I think we have to listen to and respect what they are saying."

Franken added that nobody had previously told him that his actions made them uncomfortable.

The first woman to come forward was Los Angeles radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden, who earlier this month released a photograph of the former 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, which Franken has disputed.

He told MPR that he has a different recollection of the kiss than she does, and that she has accepted his apology. 

Meanwhile Sunday, a group of 65 female elected officials, community leaders and DFL members, including Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and several state representatives, released a statement expressing their support for Franken:

"We are longtime supporters of Senator Franken, and our support is rooted in the core values that we share. During his time in the Senate he has been a champion for these values and a steadfast supporter of women's rights. While we are disappointed by these allegations, we appreciate that he has apologized and is committed to regaining the trust of Minnesotans. We believe a Senate investigation into these allegations is the appropriate course of action and will continue to support the Senator throughout this process."

Lindsay Menz publicly alleged that 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 this week that Franken grabbed their buttocks during political events in 2007 and 2008, during his first campaign for Senate.

One woman said the Democratic candidate suggested they visit the bathroom together. Franken denied propositioning a woman to go to the bathroom and said it was "difficult to respond to anonymous accusers."

Franken has walked a careful line in his response to the allegations, apologizing to any woman who felt disrespected from their encounters and pledging to regain voters' confidence.

He faces a Senate ethics investigation — which he welcomed in the wake of Tweeden's allegation — though it's unclear when that review may begin. A swirl of sexual harassment allegations at the Minnesota Capitol forced the resignations of two state lawmakers at party leaders' urging, but Franken hasn't faced similar widespread calls to leave his U.S. Senate seat.

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-color jokes about rape and disparaging women, and avoided national reporters. 

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KSTP, Associated Press

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