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Embattled Franken resigns Senate seat, adding pressure on Kihuen

Updated December 7, 2017 - 7:54 pm

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken resigned Thursday after Democratic colleagues called on him to step down over growing allegations of sexual harassment, shifting the spotlight to other politicians like Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada who face similar accusations.

Franken, in a speech on the Senate floor, said “it’s become clear that I can’t both pursue the Ethics Committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator.”

A growing number of Democratic colleagues had called on Franken to step down as more women came forward with complaints of misconduct before he was elected to serve as a senator from Minnesota. Franken was a popular comic before his life in public service.

He is the latest in a growing list of politicians to face sexual misconduct and harassment accusations.

Hours after Franken made his announcement, Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona said he is resigning Jan. 31 amid a House Ethics Committee investigation of possible sexual harassment.

Franks said he is resigning from the House because he discussed with two female staff aides whether they would consider being a surrogate mother.

Earlier this week, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the longest serving member of the House, announced his resignation but through a lawyer denied multiple allegations against him.

And last week, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, announced he would not seek re-election after a sexually illicit picture, taken during a consensual relationship, became public.

Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee said Thursday it is expanding its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas.

The committee said it will investigate whether Farenthold sexually harassed a former member of his staff and retaliated against her for complaining. The committee also will review allegations that Farenthold made inappropriate statements to other members of his staff.

It was revealed last week that taxpayers footed the bill for an $87,000 settlement on behalf of Farenthold.

Kihuen allegations

It was also disclosed last week by BuzzFeed that Kihuen, a rising star in the Democratic Party, was accused of harassment, making unwanted advances and touching a campaign finance aide in 2016. She said she quit the campaign because she felt uncomfortable.

Kihuen is not stepping down, despite calls to do so by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The freshman Nevada lawmaker has charged that Pelosi and the DCCC knew about the allegations last year — a claim denied by a Pelosi spokesman and a DCCC spokeswoman.

“As soon as the DCCC chair was informed of these serious accusations through an extensive BuzzFeed investigation last week, (Lujan) called for Representative Kihuen to resign,” Meredith Kelly, DCCC communications director, said in a statement.

Although Kihuen said he plans to remain in office, he faces a groundswell of outrage and a growing number of prominent figures from politics, journalism and the arts forced to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Given the sexual harassment allegations that are rocking powerful men across several different vocations, and the Democratic Party’s particular sensitivity to such allegations, I think he will have a hard time being able to continue,” said Kyle Kondik, an expert on congressional races with the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

When the allegations against Kihuen were first made public, the congressman said he apologized if he made the aide feel uncomfortable, but he said he remembered the incidents differently.

Franken apologized for behavior alleged in early complaints, but in his speech he denied any wrongful conduct as a senator and said “some of the allegations against me are simply not true.” He said a Senate Ethics Committee investigation “would agree with me.”

Zero tolerance

In the House, Kihuen’s Democratic colleagues from Nevada, Reps. Dina Titus and Jacky Rosen, also have asked him to step down, citing a zero tolerance policy.

But members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have been divided over how to respond to the allegations against Kihuen. The caucus of 31 Democrats who advocate for Latino issues released a statement that called for an investigation of any claim of sexual misconduct.

“Every allegation of sexual harassment and misconduct is extremely disturbing and requires a thorough investigation,” the statement read.

It is unknown whether a complaint naming Kihuen has been made to the House Ethics Committee. A panel spokesman said “no comment” when asked. But a bipartisan decision by the committee to review a complaint could take 90 days.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., called for an ethics investigation into the allegations against Kihuen, as she did when accusations first surfaced against Franken.

A former U.S. prosecutor and Nevada attorney general, Cortez Masto also called for reform of the ethics investigation process to be more timely, transparent and provide protections to victims who come forward.

“I support a full, fair and expedient investigation against Congressman Kihuen and any other member of Congress who have women or men come forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior,” Cortez Masto said in a statement issued earlier.

Cortez Masto said Thursday she was extremely disappointed in Franken. “The experiences shared by the brave women who have come forward show a disturbing pattern of behavior.”

Franken, in his Senate speech, said that nothing he has done as a senator has “brought dishonor on this institution.”

And he used his resignation speech to point a finger at President Donald Trump, also accused of sexual misconduct before being elected, and Alabama Judge Roy Moore, accused of molesting teenage girls decades ago.

Moore has been endorsed by the president and backed by the Republican National Committee in his bid for the open Senate seat in Alabama.

“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responding to Franken’s charge, said “the president addressed the comments back during the campaign. We feel strongly that the people of this country also addressed that when they elected Donald Trump to be president.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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