Former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken regrets resigning amid groping allegations and many of the Senate Democrats who urged him to step aside say they regretted their decision, The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reports.
“Oh, yeah. Absolutely,” Franken told Mayer when asked if he regretted stepping down.
Franken stepped down after radio host Leann Tweeden accused him of groping and inappropriate conduct during a USO tour in 2006. Several other women came forward to allege Franken groped them after Tweeden’s allegation.
Despite Franken’s request for a Senate Ethics hearing, he was never called to testify.
Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth told Mayer that the Senate Ethics Committee “should have been allowed to move forward” so that Franken’s accusers could testify.
“We needed more facts,” she said. “That due process didn’t happen is not good for our democracy.”
“This was a rush to judgment that didn’t allow any of us to fully explore what this was about,” agreed Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley. “I took the judgment of my peers rather than independently examining the circumstances. In my heart, I’ve not felt right about it.”
According to Mayer, Franken hoped to bring the photographer who took the infamous photo of him mockingly putting his hands in front of Tweeden’s breasts on a plane during the tour to the hearing.
“The photograph captures him on a military plane, mugging for the camera as he performs a lecherous pantomime,” Mayer wrote. “He’s leering at the lens with his hands outstretched towards the breasts of his USO co-star, Tweeden, who is wearing a military helmet, fatigues and a bulletproof vest.”
The photographer who took the snap told Mayer that everyone on the plane was goofing around when the image was taken. “I felt the truth would be out,” he said, but the committee never reviewed it.
7 Democrats say they regret pushing Franken out:
Along with Duckworth and Merkley, five other Democrats said they regretted pushing Franken to resign before he got a hearing.
Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy told Mayer that pushing Franken to resign without getting all the facts was “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made.”
“If there’s one decision I’ve made that I would take back, it’s the decision to call for his resignation. It was made in the heat of the moment, without concern for exactly what this was," added former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Maine Sen. Angus King, former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall expressed regret as well.
“I made a mistake. I started having second thoughts shortly after he stepped down. He had the right to be heard by an independent investigative body," Udall said. "I’ve heard from people around my state, and around the country, saying that they think he got railroaded. It doesn’t seem fair. I’m a lawyer. I really believe in due process.”
‘Almost nothing’ in Franken accusation checks out:
“Almost NOTHING His Main Accuser Said checks out,” Mayer wrote on Twitter.
Along with witnesses downplaying the airplane photo, witnesses also denied that Franken wrote a skit with a kissing scene just for Tweeden, as she had alleged.
Actress and former Franken partner Traylor Portman told Mayer that the scene was written before Tweeden came on board and the two had rehearsed the scene prior to the show.
“It’s not accurate for her to say it was written for her,” Portman said, adding that the scene was intended to be “what looked like kissing but wasn’t.”
“It’s just for comic relief. I guess you could turn your head, but whatever—it’s nothing. I was in sitcoms. You just play it for laughs,” she said.
Mayer reported that KABC, which reported Tweeden’s claims, never fact-checked them.
“The station gave Franken less advance warning than it gave the Drudge Report, which it tipped off the previous day,” Mayer wrote. “Three top staffers there had been meeting secretly for weeks, after hours, with Tweeden to prepare her statement, but it hadn’t been vetted with even the most cursory fact-checking.”
Tweeden’s co-host Doug McIntyre told Mayer he “bluntly” pushed to give Franken more time to respond but was overruled by higher-ups who worried the story would leak. “Nobody fact-checked Tweeden’s account,” he said.
Tweeden stands by her allegations, according to Mayer.
Numerous other women accused Franken of groping them, including former Congressional aide Tina Dupuy, another anonymous former Congressional aide, an Army veteran, and a supporter who met him at a campaign stop.