Franken Defenders in Senate Silent After 9th Groping Allegation

Al Franken / Getty Images
Al Franken / Getty Images
October 1, 2019

The senators who recanted their initial support for former Minnesota senator Al Franken's resignation remained silent as a ninth woman has stepped forward to say that the ex-Democratic senator groped her without consent.

An anonymous veteran who also worked as a Democratic Senate staffer on Monday became the ninth woman to accuse Franken of unwanted touching or kissing. The newest allegation comes after the New Yorker's Jane Mayer suggested in July in "The Case of Al Franken" that 36 Democratic senators were wrong to demand Franken's resignation after the first 8 allegations.

The woman told New York Magazine that the comedian intentionally groped her buttocks during a 2006 photo-op.

"He puts his hand on my ass. He’s telling the photographer, ‘Take another one. I think I blinked. Take another one.’ And I’m just frozen," she said. "It’s so violating. And then he gives me a little squeeze on my buttock, and I am bright red. I don’t say anything at the time, but I felt deeply, deeply uncomfortable."

Mayer argued over the course of 12,000 words that Franken's first accuser, Leann Tweeden, was a politically motivated conservative who schemed with talk show hosts to go after the liberal senator. She blamed the other seven incidents on Franken's lack of coordination and warm demeanor, pointing out that he "could be physically obtuse." She quoted Franken and his supporters making the case that the disgraced ex-senator was "sort of clumsy," "a very physical person," "a warm, tactile person," and a "social—not a sexual—'lip-kisser.'"

Several senators who publicly supported Franken's resignation in 2017 told Mayer that they regretted their public statements. "If there’s one decision I’ve made that I would take back, it’s the decision to call for his resignation," said former senator Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.). Tom Udall (D., N.M.) said he "made a mistake," while Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) called it "one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made" in his forty-five years in the Senate. Angus King (I., Maine) called Franken's resignation "the political equivalent of capital punishment" and Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) said, "in my heart, I’ve not felt right about it."

None of the senators commented publicly on the newest allegation or responded by press time to emails asking whether they stood by their belief that they erred in calling for Franken's resignation. Prominent Democratic megadonor Susie Tompkins Buell, who renounced support for any Democrats who ousted Franken, also did not respond to a request for comment. A representative for Heitkamp—who also called her support for Franken's resignation the "one decision" she would take back—initially responded to an emailed request for comment, but went silent after being asked about Franken.

While her New Yorker piece was framed as a detached assessment of the evidence, Mayer's social media posts were more vocal in their support for Franken. "How Al Franken got railroaded," Mayer tweeted.

"How about this," she also tweeted before Franken's resignation, "Dems will consider Al Franken resigning if Trump resigns first?"

Mayer's piece prompted criticism even from many liberals. Vox's Matt Yglesias wrote that "the substance of Franken’s post-resignation retroactive defense is—despite the extraordinary length of Mayer’s exposition—incredibly simple to sum up: What he did just wasn’t that bad."

Mayer also maintained radio silence following the newest allegation. She did not respond to a request for comment by press time, or answer whether it was still her belief that Franken was "railroaded."

Updated Dec. 5, 2019, 2 p.m.: An earlier version misattributed the quote, "If there’s one decision I’ve made that I would take back, it’s the decision to call for his resignation," to Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D. Ill.). The story now properly attributes the quote to former senator Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.).