Two things were clear after Al Franken finished his speech on the Senate floor just after noon on Thursday:
1. He was resigning his seat by the end of the year.
2. He didn’t believe he had done anything for which he should have been forced to resign.
Franken’s speech was defined primarily by his lack of any real apology and the clear bitterness he carries for being pushed out amid allegations that he had groped several women and forcibly tried to kiss others.
Here’s the key bit from Franken (bolding is mine):
“Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claim, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation. Because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously. I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.”
That’s a remarkable statement. Franken is simultaneously saying that he believes the women who have accused him have a right to be heard while also making very clear that he is not admitting he had done the things they alleged.
He went on to note that “I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator, nothing has brought dishonor on this institution,” adding: “I am confident that the ethics committee would agree.”
And, just in case there was any question that Franken believed he was being unfairly railroaded, the senator’s turn to Donald Trump and Roy Moore cleared all that up.
“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 repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party. But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota.”
The message of all this is clear as day: I didn’t do anything really wrong. The people who say I did are wrong or don’t remember it right. And it’s ridiculous that people like Trump and Moore are in the White House and might be in the Senate, respectively, while I am being forced out.
Franken got support in that view from an unlikely source on Thursday: Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. “Franken should not have resigned. His fate should have been left 2 the people of MN. Moore, who had sexual contact w a 14-yr old, should drop out. Conyers, who hit on his employees, should have resigned. Franken is a creep who acted inappropriatly, but his facts are different,” tweeted Fleischer shortly after Franken’s resignation announcement.
The second part of Franken’s conclusion will have a lot of Democratic heads nodding. Why is Franken resigning for allegations of groping and unwanted kissing while Trump is in office after more than a dozen women accused him during the campaign of sexual harassment? Why is Franken resigning when Roy Moore, who faces multiple allegations of pursuing relationships with teenagers as young as 14 when he was in his 30s, is looking more and more like a winner in next Tuesday’s special election?
Those are fair questions. The simple reason is because Franken gave in to the pressure to step aside while Trump and Moore just kept saying they didn’t do anything wrong and had no plans to leave their respective races. And the political willpower didn’t exist in Alabama or the country to get rid of them.
But the first part of Franken’s contention – that he did not do anything wrong and these women were either mistaken or misremembering – will sit less well even with his most ardent supporters.
If Franken truly believes – as he said – that he did nothing wrong here, then why is he resigning? His explanation was that he couldn’t simultaneously deal with an ethics investigation and represent the state effectively. But he was the one who called for an ethics investigation when he announced last week that he was planning to stay on the job and work to win back the trust of his colleagues and his constituents!
What changed between then and now?
The answer is that almost three dozen of Franken’s colleagues called for him to step down over the last 24 hours – including a united front of Democratic female senators. There was just no way that Franken could realistically stay on amid that depth of condemnation. (Although, per Trump and Moore, maybe he could have.)
Franken bowed to what he believed to be the inevitable political reality facing him. But in so doing, he wanted to make sure everyone – in the chamber and outside of it – didn’t see his resignation as an admission of guilt. Because Franken just doesn’t think he’s guilty.