And then there were seven? Another woman has come forward to accuse Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of sexual harassment, this time during his time as a talk-radio host at the now-defunct progressive network Air America. According to the anonymous accuser, Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after her boss, a Democratic House member, left his studio. The story echoes accusations leveled by Leeann Tweeden last month and another accuser who emerged last week, with all three alleged incidents having taken place in 2006:
The aide, whose name POLITICO is withholding to protect her identity, said Franken (D-Minn.) pursued her after her boss had left the studio. She said she was gathering her belongings to follow her boss out of the room. When she turned around, Franken was in her face.
The former staffer ducked to avoid Franken’s lips. As she hastily left the room, she said, Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
“He was between me and the door and he was coming at me to kiss me. It was very quick and I think my brain had to work really hard to be like ‘Wait, what is happening?’ But I knew whatever was happening was not right and I ducked,” the aide said in an interview. “I was really startled by it and I just sort of booked it towards the door and he said, ‘It’s my right as an entertainer.’”
That line particularly stuck in her head after Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape emerged last October. She got particularly angry after Franken attacked Trump for saying the same thing she heard Franken say, she tells Politico. At that point, she began telling more friends what had happened a decade earlier:
“It was a moment in time where I told a number of my friends about my experience with Franken because I saw him on the news being asked about the Trump tape and I felt like it was really hypocritical,” the former staffer said. “It’s a power dynamic and the fact that Donald Trump could say that was not much different from the fact that Al Franken could say it.”
She told others more contemporaneously, Politico notes. They confirmed that she told two colleagues, one at the time of the incident in 2006 and the other a few years later after Franken got elected to the Senate. That does tend to substantiate her claim, and it appears Politico has done its homework in building credibility for the allegation as much as can be done with anonymous claims.
Damning if true, but … is it? On previous allegations, Franken has carefully picked his words in issuing apologies combined with passive denials. This time, however, Franken has switched tactics and hotly denies this allegation, especially the droit de seigneur comment:
“This allegation is categorically not true and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous. I look forward to fully cooperating with the ongoing ethics committee investigation,” Franken said in a statement to POLITICO.
That sharp denial stands in stark contrast to Franken’s other statements. If one believes him this time, what does that say about the other allegations made against him? That includes Franken’s “my memory is different” passive denial about Tweeden’s allegation of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour skit rehearsal.
This puts Democrats on Capitol Hill in a bind, no matter which way that cuts for Franken. Nancy Pelosi just shoved John Conyers out the door for multiple allegations of sexual harassment, although his activities specifically involved his Capitol Hill office and the misuse of taxpayer funds, two conditions that don’t exist in the allegations against Franken. Nevertheless, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been grumbling about double standards in Pelosi’s belated housecleaning with Conyers, and every new allegation against Franken will only exacerbate that problem.
On top of that, Democrats desperately want to use Roy Moore to Akinize Republicans in 2018. Allegations against Roy Moore are more serious (potential child molestation in one instance), but also go back a lot further than Franken’s too. If Franken can stay in the Senate, Mike Huckabee wants to know, why can’t Roy Moore? If neither party seems willing to clean its own house, then the Akinizing will cancel itself out.
Unfortunately, no one can fire Franken — they can only pressure him to resign, and so far Democrats seem adamantly unwilling to do so. Sen. Kristin Gillibrand, who just reversed her previous partnership with Bill Clinton by saying he should have resigned in 1997, won’t offer the same advice to Franken. Until Senate Democrats muster up the gumption to tell Franken to go, he’s going to be a millstone around their necks — and they only have six more days to make it work against Moore in Alabama. The clock is ticking.