Minnesota Democratic Senate candidate Richard Painter repeatedly would not say Monday if he believed the women who have made accusations of sexual miscoduct against former Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.).
Painter is running for the Democratic Senate nomination against incumbent Sen. Tina Smith (D., Minn.), who was appointed to the position after Franken resigned in January.
Leeann Tweeden first accused Franken of forcibly kissing her without consent during a USO tour they took in 2006—Franken is a former comedian—and she also released a photo of Franken with his hands over her breasts while she slept wearing a flak jacket. That was followed by seven other women who made similar allegations against Franken.
Franken announced his resignation in December in a Senate speech where he said some of the accusations against him were not true but added he could no longer be an effective senator while going through the Ethics Committee process.
MSNBC host Steve Kornacki noted Painter tweeted it was possible the story was "likely a Roger Stone / FOX set up job" in December.
This was likely a Roger Stone / FOX set up job.
MInnesota voters are entitled to an investigation before a resignation. It’s called due process.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) December 18, 2017
"Do you believe Al Franken is guilty of unwanted advances, or do you believe this was a set-up job?" Kornacki asked.
"I have no idea. I put a lot of those tweets out when I first heard about it. I continue to wonder why Roger Stone got a heads-up on that before the Minnesota voters did," he said.
Painter said the voters were entitled to an investigation and a senator serving out his fuill term.
"Sir, with respect, there are women who have come out and put their names on the record," Kornacki said. "There's an elected official from New England who said she was on stage in a public setting with Al Franken and he tried to give her an open-mouth kiss. You say you do not know at all if any of this happened?"
"I don't know the facts. It's supposed to be an ethics investigation. We should have investigations of such conduct. That type of conduct is unacceptable for a United States senator or anyone else, but we should find out the facts, not just have a resignation," Painter said.
Kornacki continued to press him, saying women had put their names on the record. He noted there was never an ethics investigation of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in 2012, but people were able to look at sexual misconduct accusations against him and levy judgment.
Painter agreed, but he said the difference was Franken had already been elected, and there needed to be "aggressive investigation" of any wrongdoing.
"Do you believe the women who came forward and made these allegations against Senator Franken? Some of them are Democrats," Kornacki said.
"I don't know the facts here. That's why we are entitled to find that out, but this election is not about Al Franken," he said.
Kornacki said he wasn't trying to make the issue about Al Franken, but he noted the "Me Too" movement in the country was the force leading to women stepping forward and making accusations against Franken.
Painter repeated he didn't know the facts on Franken's case,
"I'm hearing you say you don't know if any of them are telling the truth," Kornacki said.
"I said I don't know the facts," Painter said again, sounding impatient.
He went on to say the law needed to be fixed so women could safely come forward and report sexual harassment and assault, calling it a "serious issue."
"I guess I'm just curious. Again, there were women who came out and they put their names on these accusations," Kornacki said. "Al Franken left before there was any kind of Senate Ethics Committee investigation, but it's not enough for you to say ‘I believe these women?'"
"I am not going to opine on the facts of the Al Franken case. That was a job of the Senate Ethics Committee," he said.
"Isn't it your job as a leader to make a judgment when eight women come forward to say, ‘OK, I believe them?'" Kornacki asked.
"If I were on the Senate Ethics Committee it would be my job," Painter said. "That was their job. It's not my job to run around saying who I believe with respect to the accusations made against Al Franken. This election is not about Al Franken."
Painter said Kornacki was doing "exactly what the far right" wants to do with his line of questioning.
"So if multiple women step forward with an accusation of sexual misconduct against a United States senator, you are unwilling to say whether you believe it or not unless it goes through the Senate Ethics Committee," Korancki said.
Painter said such accusations would merit an immediate investigation, but he repeated it was not his place to opine on such a case.
As for why he was challenging Smith, Painter first said he was "fed up" with the Republican Party and the priority in 2018 needed to be getting Republicans not standing up to President Donald Trump out of office.
"Now I believe that Tina Smith, our senator, should be a lot stronger against President Trump," he said. "He should have come out against his trade war, which is going to destroy agriculture in our state. She should call for his removal from office, quite frankly, because he is not showing that he can conduct himself as a president in accordance with the Constitution."
Painter is the vice-chair of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an organization formerly headed by left-wing activist David Brock and an approved funding group of the progressive Democracy Alliance. A former ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, Painter frequently appears on cable news and is a vocal critic of Trump.