Former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is making his comeback after resigning from his seat in 2017 over a spate of #MeToo allegations that began when talk-show host Leeann Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing her during a USO show rehearsal, backed up by a photograph she shared of him mockingly groping her while sleeping.
On Monday, The New Yorker published a lengthy profile of the allegations against Franken, concluding that he may not be the #MeToo villain that he was depicted as at the time. Now, he “absolutely regrets” resigning from his seat under pressure from fellow Democrats.
“The idea that anybody who accuses someone of something is always right ― that’s not the case,” Franken told the outlet. “That isn’t reality.”
Franken wishes he instead went before the Senate Ethics Committee rather than resigning, which came after several of his colleagues pressured him. Two years later, several Democratic lawmakers expressed regret for their role in ousting Franken.
“A remarkable number of Franken’s Senate colleagues have regrets about their own roles in his fall,” writes Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. “Seven current and former U.S. senators who demanded Franken’s resignation in 2017 told me that they’d been wrong to do so. Such admissions are unusual in an institution whose members rarely concede mistakes.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told Mayer that pressuring Franken to resign is “one of the biggest mistakes [he has] made” in his 45 years in the Senate.
Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) said she wishes that she could take back her “heat of the moment” decision to throw Franken under the bus. “If there’s one decision I’ve made that I would take back, it’s the decision to call for his resignation,” she said. “It was made in the heat of the moment, without concern for exactly what this was.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said that the Senate Ethics Committee “should have been allowed to move forward” and that the Committee “needed more facts.”
“That due process didn’t happen is not good for our democracy,” said Duckworth.
“There’s no excuse for sexual assault,” said Sen. Angus King (I-ME). “But Al deserved more of a process. I don’t denigrate the allegations, but this was the political equivalent of capital punishment.”
“This was a rush to judgment that didn’t allow any of us to fully explore what this was about,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). “I took the judgment of my peers rather than independently examining the circumstances. In my heart, I’ve not felt right about it.”
“I made a mistake. I started having second thoughts shortly after he stepped down,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). “He had the right to be heard by an independent investigative body. I’ve heard from people around my state, and around the country, saying that they think he got railroaded. It doesn’t seem fair. I’m a lawyer. I really believe in due process.”
Tweeden’s revelation then launched another seven allegations of inappropriate touching or kissing against Franken from other women — all of which he denied, claimed to have no recollection of, or otherwise disputed.
According to Mayer’s investigation into Tweeden’s claims, her initial account of what happened between Tweeden and Franken does not add up to the facts. For instance, according to Mayer, Franken had written the now-infamous kissing scene years prior for other USO shows. People who previously worked with Franken backed up that account. As to the famous photograph of Franken mockingly groping Tweeden while she was asleep, the former senator claims he meant it as a joke in reference to their USO act. Several of his former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues defended his conduct as being goofy but not a sexual harasser.
“He’s lots of things, some delightful, some annoying,” said former “SNL” writer James Downey. “He can be very aggressive interpersonally. He can say mean things, or use other people as props. He can seem more confident that the audience will find him adorable than he ought to. His estimate of his charm can be overconfident. But I’ve known him for forty-seven years and he’s the very last person who would be a sexual harasser.”
Read the full 13,000 word report here.