Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., spoke to a handful of Minnesota media outlets on Sunday in response to the four allegations of sexual misconduct against him, saying he is “embarrassed and ashamed” and that he doesn’t know if more accusations are forthcoming. While saying he “respected” the feelings of the women who have accused him of groping their buttocks, he also said he had no memory of doing so.
“I take photographs at the State Fair with thousands of people,” he told Minnesota Public Radio, among other outlets, and “I would never intentionally” grope anyone. But “we have to listen to women and respect what they say….”
They were Franken’s first extended comments in interviews since his original statement in response to the accusations.
Three women have accused Franken of grabbing their buttocks while they posed for photos between 2007 and 2010. In addition, broadcaster and model Leeann Tweeden publicly accused Franken of sexual misconduct. On Nov. 16, she said that Franken “forcibly kissed” her during a rehearsal for a skit and that he groped her during a 2006 USO tour. She also published a photograph showing her asleep while Franken appears to place his hands on her breasts over the body armor she was wearing.
“I understand I am going to have to do everything I can going forward to be enormously sensitive. I apologize to these women,” Franken told WCCO during an interview from his daughter’s house in Washington Sunday.
But Franken said he didn’t remember taking photos with these women, nor did he remember inappropriately touching them.
When WCCO’s Esme Murphy directly asked if he had ever placed a hand on a woman’s buttocks, Franken responded, “I can’t say that that hasn’t happened. I take thousands and thousands of pictures, sometimes in crowded and chaotic situations. I can’t say I haven’t done that.”
“I am very sorry if these women experienced that,” he added.
He reiterated this point to Minnesota Public Radio.
“I’m someone who, you know, hugs people,” he added. “I’ve learned from these stories that in some of these encounters I have crossed the line for some women.”
Interviewer Cathy Wurzer asked Franken if more women might step forward “to accuse you of groping, patting, whatever, or is this it?”
“If you had said to me two weeks ago that a woman was going to say that I had made her uncomfortable and disrespected her in one of these ways I would have said ‘no,’” Franken responded. “….So, you know, I don’t know. I can’t say.”
Franken told MPR the photograph was “inexcusable.”
“What my intention was doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am chained to that photo,” Franken said. She “didn’t have any ability to consent. She had every right to feel violated by that photo.”
But he disputed Tweeden’s account of the kiss, telling WCCO, “I had a different recollection of the kiss … My recollection is different than hers, but as I said, in this moment I think it’s important to honor the experience of women.”
He said he apologized to Tweeden, and “she was gracious enough to accept my apology.”
Finally, Franken said he has no plans to resign from the Senate but “I’m going to be accountable by going through the process of the ethics committee.” Depending on the committee’s findings, Franken could face censure or even expulsion from the Senate or no penalty at all.
“I am going to work as hard as I can to win back the trust of so many people, of so many people that I love in Minnesota, so many groups that I worked on behalf of,” Franken concluded to WCCO. “I have a long way back to win back the trust of the people of Minnesota. I’ve let the people down. I’ve let the people of Minnesota down. I’ve let my friends and staff and supporters down, my family down.”
“I’m just very, very sorry,” he added.