Senator Al Franken (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Franken to Quit Senate Amid Turmoil Over Misconduct Allegations

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Al Franken said Thursday he’ll resign to end the turmoil over allegations that he groped or tried to forcibly kiss several women after more than half of his Democratic colleagues demanded he step down to make clear that mistreatment of women is unacceptable.

Franken, a leader of his party’s liberal wing who was seen as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, is the latest man in a high-profile position to be brought down amid a shift in U.S. culture that increasingly treats sexual misconduct with zero tolerance.

"I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate," said Franken, 66, of Minnesota in remarks delivered on the Senate floor. He said he can’t be "an effective senator" for his state while undergoing an ethics investigation that he requested.

The senator referred to sexual misconduct allegations against President Donald Trump that surfaced during his campaign and against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of 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.

Under Minnesota law, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton will appoint a new senator to serve until a special election in November 2018 fills the seat through the end of Franken’s term in January 2021. The governor said in a statement Thursday he hasn’t decided whom to appoint, but that he expects to announce a decision in the next few days.

Franken said it’s time to listen to women, but he still disputed some of the specific allegations against him. He said his willingness to undergo an investigation "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." The ethics probe now will be canceled.

Also on Thursday, Republican Representative Trent Franks of Arizona said he’ll resign at the end of January. He said the House Ethics Committee was investigating him for discussing surrogate motherhood with two female staff members as he and his wife were looking for someone to carry a child for them. House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that he was briefed on "serious" misconduct claims against Franks and told the lawmaker he should resign.

The ethics panel announced an inquiry into the actions of another Republican House member, Blake Farenthold of Texas. Farenthold was sued in 2014 by his former communications director, who said she was sexually harassed and discriminated against on the basis of gender. Politico reported last week that Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle the claim.

Franken’s fate was sealed on Wednesday as fellow Democrats, led by female senators, issued statements urging him to step down. The trigger was an accusation, reported by Politico, from a former Democratic congressional aide who said Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, two years before he was elected.

“Enough is enough,” Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said after she posted a statement on Facebook that began the calls for Franken’s resignation. She said lawmakers must “draw a line in the sand” that harassment and sexual misconduct won’t be tolerated.

About two-dozen of Franken’s Democratic colleagues -- including female senators who had called for his resignation -- were on the Senate floor to hear his speech. Afterward they went up to Franken to shake his hand and hug him. Jeff Flake of Arizona was the only Republican seated in the chamber during the speech and he, too, shook Franken’s hand afterward.

Ethics Investigation

Franken had apologized and called for an ethics investigation into his own conduct in November after a radio news anchor said he forcefully kissed and groped her without consent when they were on a U.S. military-sponsored entertainment tour to the Middle East in 2006. Several other women since then have accused Franken of groping them, including one who said the then-sitting senator grabbed her buttocks while posing for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.

Franken’s reaction and resignation contrast with the stringent denials by Moore, of claims by multiple women that he sexually assaulted or sought to date them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. One of the women said she was 14 when he molested her. Moore rejected calls that he quit the campaign by Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, while Trump and GOP leaders in Alabama said they wanted him to stay in the race.

After the initial allegations against Franken, Trump criticized him on Twitter, writing, “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words.” By contrast, the president, who denied accusations of harassment or sexual assault from more than a dozen women during his campaign, endorsed Moore a week before the Dec. 12 Alabama election, saying he needed another Republican vote in the Senate to counter Democrats.

The ground has been shifting rapidly in the past two months since multiple allegations of sexual assault brought down one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein. Other executives and high-profile men from the entertainment, business and media worlds also have found themselves ousted from positions of power in recent weeks after being accused of mistreating women.

‘Saturday Night Live’

Franken is a former writer and cast member on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” His initial election, which in 2009 gave Democrats the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican filibusters, was so close that it was contested to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Franken was eventually declared the winner over Republican Senator Norm Coleman by 312 votes.

Before Minnesota Democrats endorsed Franken at the party’s 2008 nominating convention, he faced questions about his attitudes toward women after Republicans circulated an article he wrote for Playboy in 2000. In the column, “Porn-O-Rama,” Franken wrote about a fictitious futuristic “sex institute” and described in graphic detail having sex with machines and humans.

Minnesota Republicans also circulated 13-year-old jokes he made about rape while proposing a skit on the set of “Saturday Night Live.”

In office, Franken portrayed himself as an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. Responding to the allegations in November, Franken specifically apologized to those who "counted on me to be a champion for women."

Franken has written four books that made the New York Times bestseller list: “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot,” “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” “The Truth” and most recently “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.” After the sexual harassment allegations emerged, he canceled early dates in a planned tour to promote that book.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.