Al Franken now stands accused of not only kissing and groping a woman in 2006, but also of grabbing another woman’s butt while she was taking a picture with him in 2010.
What has Franken – a high profile Democrat senator from Minnesota and someone mentioned as a potential 2020 presidential candidate – said about these serious allegations? Not much.
In the wake of radio host Leeann Tweeden’s accusation that Franken kissed her without her consent and fondled her breasts while she was asleep during a 2006 USO Tour they both were featured on, Franken told reporters this: “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
That “apology” was met with universal disdain – even in Democratic circles – and so Franken quickly put out another, much longer statement. “I respect women,” Franken said in it. “I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”
Then on Monday came the news – first reported by CNN – that Franken had allegedly grabbed the butt of a woman named Lindsay Menz at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.
Franken issued another statement to CNN to deal with this latest accusation. “I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture,” Franken told CNN. “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”
No one has seen hide nor hair of Franken since last Thursday when the news about Tweeden broke. Aside from those handful of statements, he’s said nothing else about the allegations against him. And he’s taken no questions.
What Franken is doing here is obvious. He is letting the statement he released last week in the wake of the first allegations stand. He’s not adding to it, re-opening it or relitigating it.
And, he’s hoping that with Congress out of session this week for Thanksgiving recess – and the country less focused on work than their turkey day plans – that this whole thing blows over (or loses some of its heat) before next week. Franken’s move to self-refer his conduct to the Senate Ethics Committee is another way of taking some of the immediacy from all of this. The ethics committee is not exactly the world’s swiftest when it comes to meting out justice.
Which is a probably a smart political strategy. But, it’s beyond hypocritical for Franken, who has been an outspoken critic of other men accused of sexually inappropriate behavior, to simply bunker in and hope the storm passes. And Democrats shouldn’t stand for it.
If these were isolated incidents – as Franken supporters undoubtedly hope and believe – then the Minnesota Democrat should have no problem appearing in public and taking questions from reporters.
But, by not taking questions – or even, really, appearing in public – Franken is fomenting speculation about his past conduct.
The first question of any news conference will be “Did you do this to other women? When? Who? Why?” That’s a question Franken absolutely needs to answer if he wants to survive politically. Nowhere in his more fulsome apology does Franken say that the incident with Tweeden was a one-off, a momentary lapse of reason and good behavior. Ditto his response to the allegations from Menz.
Remember that Franken is a sitting US Senator. His salary is paid by taxpayers. Those two facts – coupled with the seriousness of the allegations against him – necessitate that Franken do something much more than hide out and wait for this to pass.
In a culture rocked over the last seven weeks by near-daily reports of powerful men sexually harassing and even assaulting women, Franken’s silence is deafening – and damning.
He needs to come out – like, yesterday – and explain his behavior. And why it doesn’t mean he needs to leave the Senate. Otherwise, events will, rightly, outrun him.