Call this Al Franken’s modified limited hangout. Accused of sexual misconduct in a private moment and caught by a photographer at least posing for another sexual assault in another, Franken has chosen to admit to the latter and deny the former. Minnesota’s two-term Democratic senator issued a statement calling the picture a joke that went awry, but passively denies Leann Tweeden’s testimony about forcing her into a violent kiss during a 2006 USO tour.
However, he then sends “sincerest apologies” to Tweeden, which seems a little incongruous to his denial, to say the least:
NEW Stmt from @SenFranken: “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann.”
Says he “shouldn’t have done” the picture. pic.twitter.com/cJ0avgDroM
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) November 16, 2017
That’s about the least self-incriminating statement Franken can make under the circumstances. Tweeden has already published the picture as part of her detailed recollection of the incidents from 2006 and has closed off the argument that she participated willingly in the shot. “I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden writes. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
So there’s no way for Franken to get out from under guilt for the photo. Under those circumstances, the best explanation for this is that it was just “intended to be funny” while admitting it’s not. It was just a joke, people, and I was a comedian! Just to be clear about the context of this joke, the picture took place after Tweeden claims to have rebuked him for the rehearsal incident in which Franken allegedly “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” By that point, at least in Tweeden’s telling of it, Franken would have known that she wasn’t playing along with his antics. If true, this picture actually seems more hostile than joking.
Besides, if he wants to rely on the “it was just a joke” defense for the picture, Franken also seems to be displaying some very recent hypocrisy, too. Franken took Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett to task over a tweet in a confirmation hearing yesterday, claiming that calling something a joke is no excuse:
“It was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t.” <– this is almost exactly what Willett said to Franken yesterday during his confirmation hearing, of an A-ROD joke. Franken's response? "Sometimes when you don’t get a joke, it’s because it wasn’t a joke.” https://t.co/KjRqO1LW23
— Jenna Lifhits (@jlifhits) November 16, 2017
“Do you think it demonstrates good judgment for a man in his late 40s, sitting Supreme Court justice, to publicly demean and humiliate a 17-year-old girl on Twitter?” Franken said. “I don’t get the joke.”
“What is the joke work accompanying that?” he asked. Franken once had to add a footnote to one of his books to explain a joke.
“It was a ham-handed attempt at levity, and at comedy,” Willett replied. “It was an A-Rod tweet. Not a transgender tweet.”
“I don’t get it,” Franken said. “But sometimes when you don’t get a joke, it’s because it wasn’t a joke.”
Point of fact: Franken was 55 years old when that picture was taken. What was that about publicly demeaning and humiliating young women again?
The photo doesn’t matter as much as the alleged assault, and Franken knows it. That’s why he’s using the my memory of that is different dodge. If that’s true, why didn’t Franken relate his memory of the rehearsal? What did Tweeden get wrong? If the incident never took place, why not just say that? It’s probably because Tweeden’s at least close to the truth on this, and Franken’s not willing to get into a fight over details. He’s also probably worried about other allegations emerging if Tweeden’s story keeps hitting the top of the news cycle. He’s hoping that the entire thing will get dropped with his half-assed apology.
Franken at one point has been mentioned as a dark-horse 2020 presidential candidate, a possibility that looks all but over now. A better question will be how long he lasts in his current job. Democrats can afford to throw him under the bus and demand his resignation, as (a) he’s never been that significant to them anyway, and (b) Minnesota has a Democratic governor. The state would have to hold a special election in November 2018 to fill the rest of the term, but Mark Dayton would appoint a solid progressive in Franken’s place, one that might be better suited to hold the seat in 2020 after this scandal eruption. If Democrats need to demonstrate that they believe the women, Franken gives them a low-cost opportunity.
That opportunity might arrive sooner rather than later, too:
MORE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls for Ethics Committee review of Sen. Al Franken after news anchor accuses Franken of kissing, groping her without consent https://t.co/7LlJHV3U3d pic.twitter.com/YwRQ8Nasyw
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 16, 2017
If more victims come forward as part of this probe, expect Franken to return to SNL soon, as a private citizen.
Update: I doubt Dayton would nominate Keith Ellison for this spot if the opportunity arises. Ellison wins in his very progressive MN-05 district, but would have trouble in a statewide race. I’d guess that Dayton might look to his lieutenant governor Tina Smith, who took a pass on the upcoming gubernatorial race. She’s cut from the same low-key cloth as Amy Klobuchar, and would be a natural for the state’s DFL to promote on the heels of a sexual harassment scandal within their own party.
Update: The first modified limited hangout didn’t cut it, so Franken has issued a longer statement. Note, however, that he still passively denies Tweeden’s core allegation:
“For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.
“Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.
“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
It’s basically a denial covered by a lot of virtue signaling. Franken also pledges to cooperate with an Ethics committee probe, as if he had much choice in the matter.