Gillibrand Defends Call for Franken's Resignation

'I'd do it again today'

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
July 22, 2019

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) wouldn't express regrets about her calls for Al Franken's resignation in a lengthy New Yorker piece defending the former Minnesota senator.

Gillibrand, a 2020 candidate, has been vilified by some corners of the left for leading the charge in the Senate to push Franken out of office in 2017, following eight separate accusations of groping and sexual misconduct against him. In a piece by liberal writer Jane Mayer, Franken said he regretted resigning, and seven current and former U.S. senators who joined the calls for Franken's resignation told Mayer they made a mistake in rushing to judgment.

Gillibrand still feels differently.

"I'd do it again today," Gillibrand told Mayer. "If a few wealthy donors are angry about that, it’s on them."

"We had eight credible allegations, and they had been corroborated, in real time, by the press corps," she said. "I had been a leader in this space of sexual harassment and assault, and it was weighing on me."

Franken was entitled to whatever process he wanted, Gillibrand said—Franken requested a Senate Ethics Committee investigation—but "he wasn't entitled to me carrying his water, and defending him with my silence."

"But the women who came forward felt it was sexual harassment," she said. "So it was."

Politico reported last year on major Democratic donors who said they would not give money to Gillibrand for her role in Franken's resignation. Billionaire megadonor George Soros accused her of opportunism, saying she pushed Franken out to improve her 2020 hopes.

Gillibrand has fundraised directly off the controversy. In February, she wrote supporters, "When I called on Al Franken to resign, I paid a price. I made a lot of establishment Democratic donors angry, and they launched attacks in the press. Everyone had the same facts—there were eight credible allegations of sexual harassment and abuse that were corroborated in real time—and I refused to remain silent."

She asked for donations as a means to reject a system that "rewards sexism and silences women."

Mayer's piece cast doubt on the account of Leeann Tweeden, who said Franken kissed her without her consent while rehearsing for a USO tour skit in 2006. She also released a photo showing Franken placing his hands over her breasts while she slept. Mayer quoted friends of Franken and cited Tweeden's conservative political views as a reason to doubt her story.

Seven other women accused Franken of inappropriately touching or kissing them. When the seventh woman, a former Senate staffer, told Politico he had tried to forcibly kiss her, Gillibrand's office told Franken it would call for his resignation, and a wave of lawmakers followed suit. Franken reluctantly stepped down, giving a defiant speech on the Senate floor saying he had never dishonored his office.

Mayer co-authored a widely criticized piece in 2018 detailing an accusation of misconduct against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Mayer and Ronan Farrow published Deborah Ramirez's account that Kavanaugh exposed himself at her at a Yale dormitory party, although Ramirez acknowledged she was intoxicated at the time and needed nearly a week of "carefully reassessing her memories" before going on the record.

Mayer admitted to Elle that she was influenced by her perception of how Anita Hill was treated when she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his confirmation process in 1991. She said that "if true," Ramirez's story could demonstrate a "pattern of misconduct" and thus likely sink his confirmation hopes.

"So having watched this before, I knew that key issues would be whether the judge had a pattern of similar behavior, since that helps establish who is telling the truth when there is a standoff, and whether there were credible corroborators on either side," Mayer said. "Knowing this is why Ronan Farrow and I were so alert to the significance of other accusers, such as Deborah Ramirez. Her allegation showed that, if true, yes, there was a pattern of misconduct, and likely another side of the judge."

Gillibrand's campaign did not return a request for comment.