A new accuser has come forward against former Senator Al Franken. New York magazine published a story about women who’ve come forward to accuse powerful men and, as part of that story, a woman who hadn’t come forward publicly before decided to tell her story about Franken.
“I was just out of college in my first job, working for U.S. senator Patty Murray,” she told New York. Franken, then exploring a run for the Senate, was the guest speaker at Murray’s annual Golden Tennis Shoes Awards (named for a dismissive description of Murray, early in her political career, as a mom in tennis shoes).
The woman worked the photo line, and when it was her turn to be photographed with Franken, she said, “he puts his hand on my ass. He’s telling the photographer, ‘Take another one. I think I blinked. Take another one.’ And I’m just frozen. It’s so violating. And then he gives me a little squeeze on my buttock, and I am bright red. I don’t say anything at the time, but I felt deeply, deeply uncomfortable.”
A military veteran who is now a senior staffer at a major progressive organization, she is the ninth woman to accuse Franken of inappropriate conduct and the fourth to say Franken grabbed her butt. New York also spoke to three individuals in whom she had confided after the first Franken accusations emerged; she says that she did not tell anyone about the incident after it happened out of embarrassment.
Ever since Al Franken announced he would resign his seat in the Senate, there have been people wondering aloud if he was making a mistake. Actor Matt Damon argued that Franken’s misbehavior was of a different quality than, say, Harvey Weinstein, which is true. Damon’s point was that maybe Franken should be forgiven and rehabilitated rather than dumped. The regret over Franken’s departure culminated in a piece at the New Yorker earlier this year in which Franken himself said he regretted his decision to resign:
When I asked him if he truly regretted his decision to resign, he said, “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.” He wishes that he had appeared before a Senate Ethics Committee hearing, as he had requested, allowing him to marshal facts that countered the narrative aired in the press.
As Allahpundit noted at the time, the New Yorker seemed to have a very different standard for accusations about Franken than for accusations about Brett Kavanaugh. Still, if the photo of Leeann Tweeden had been the only incident, Franken probably would have survived. But it wasn’t the only incident, just the only one he claimed to be able to remember:
Franken, meanwhile, sent a personal apology to Tweeden, which she read aloud on “The View.” He wrote, “There’s no excuse, and I understand why you could feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently, but what’s important is the impact it had on you—and you felt violated by my actions, and for that I apologize.” When Tweeden accepted the apology, and said that she wasn’t asking him to resign from office, Franken thought that the worst was behind him.
But Tweeden’s charges were soon followed by seven additional allegations of groping or unwanted kisses. A pattern of misbehavior is often crucial to proving sexual misconduct. Franken told me, “My first instinct was ‘This doesn’t make any sense. This didn’t happen.’ But then, when they started adding up, I said, ‘Well, maybe I’m doing something I’m not aware of.’ ” He added, “But this was out of the blue for me.”…
To Franken’s dismay, he had no memory of any of the alleged accusers except Tweeden. He had met the seven women long ago, mostly in fleeting interactions in crowded venues, posing for photographs with them. Only two incidents were alleged to have happened after Franken was elected to the Senate. A woman named Lindsay Menz told CNN that, at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, her husband had taken a photograph of her with Franken, and that Franken had grabbed her bottom while posing. She said that the episode had lasted three to four seconds, and that Franken’s hand had been “wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.” (Menz didn’t respond to requests for an interview.)
Presumably, Franken won’t remember his behavior toward this woman either, but the fact that accusers are still coming out of the woodwork two years later ought to convince the doubters this wasn’t a one-time thing. It seems like more of a routine.
One of the arguments Matt Damon made in Franken’s defense was that Franken’s behavior always seemed to happen when the camera was on him while Weinstein’s would only happen in the shadows. “When you see Al Franken taking a picture putting his hands on that woman’s flak jacket and mugging for the camera… that is just like a terrible joke, and it’s not funny. It’s wrong, and he shouldn’t have done that,” Damon said.
But maybe the reason Franken’s groping always happened with a camera on him is that he felt the camera insulated him from accusations by providing him with exactly the ready-made defense Damon is using to defend him. In this latest accusations, Franken is literally telling the photographer to keep taking pictures while he’s groping someone’s rear end, as if he’s trying to both prolong the situation and also emphasize the absurdity of it. He was a performer and a comedian, so he can always claim it was just for a laugh so long as the camera was on him. Whereas if he tried the same thing without the camera it would obviously be creepy.
I don’t think the presence of the camera, in Tweeden’s case or any of the others, proves his innocence. I think it proves he’s thinking about how and when he can get away with inappropriate behavior.