Senator Al Franken finally faced the media in Washington but said he doesn’t remember two alleged groping incidents and that he recalls an alleged kissing incident ‘differently’ than accuser Leeann Tweeden.
‘I am going to try to learn from my mistakes,’ the Minnesota Democratic senator told reporters at the Capitol in his first televised press conference since Tweeden made bombshell allegations about Franken’s conduct on a USO tour and released a photo of him appearing to grab her breasts while she was sleeping.
Franken never deviated from written statements he has released or from print interviews he gave on Sunday about the incidents, including one woman’s claim that he grabbed her backside during a photograph at the Minnesota State Fair.
‘I take a lot of pictures in Minnesota, thousands of pictures, meet tens of thousands of people. Those are instances that I do not remember,’ said Franken.
‘I know that I’ve let a lot of people down,’ said Minnesota Sen. Al Franken in his first press conference since being accused of groping women
Franken said he would not resign, even as other high-profile figures accused of harassment in recent weeks have lost their jobs.
‘I know that I’ve let a lot of people down,’ he said. ‘My colleagues, my staff, my supporters and everyone who has counted on me to be a champion for women. To all of you, I just want to again say I am sorry. I know there are know magic words I can say to regain your trust.’
Franken also spoke about the USO tour where Tweeden says he forcibly kissed her during a rehearsal for a comedy routine.
Franken said Monday: ‘On the kiss at the rehearsal we were rehearsing for a sketch. I said that I recalled that differently from Leanne. But I feel that you have to respect women’s experience. And so I apologized to her and I meant it. And I was very grateful that she accepted it.’
Senator Al Franken gestures as he talks to the media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 27, 2017
Democratic Senator from Minnesota Al Franken (L) walks back into his office after taking questions following a statement regarding alleged sexual misconduct, before members of the news media on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 27 November 2017
In a blog entry about the experience, Tweeden, a California radio host, wrote: ‘We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.’
Franken continued to apologize without saying he engaged in the conduct he is accused of.
‘From these stories it’s been clear that there are some women – and one is too many – who feel that I’ve done something disrespectful and that’s hurt them and for that I am tremendously sorry,’ he said.
‘I know that I am going to have to be much more conscious when in these circumstances, much more careful, much more sensitive, and that this will not happen again going forward,’ Franken said.
‘It’s going to take a long time for me to regain people’s trust.’
Franken said he doesn’t remember whether he touched women inappropriately while having his picture taken with them at campaign events associated with his Senate run.
His accusers have claimed the politician touched their buttocks during events for his first campaign for Senate.
The women told the Huffington Post the alleged events took place in Minneapolis back in 2007 and 2008.
Lindsay Menz says Franken grabbed her buttocks at the state fair in 2010, an incident she recalled on CNN made her feel ‘gross.’
Lindsay Menz, (left) was the second woman to claim that Franken, (right) groped her when the two took this picture at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010
She said she immediately told her husband that Franken had ‘grabbed’ her bottom and that she posted about it on Facebook.
‘I’ve met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I’m a warm person. I hug people,’ Franken said in his initial written response to the report.
The Democrat’s comments were the latest indication that he had no plans to step down amid allegations of sexual misconduct. One woman alleges Franken forcibly kissed her on a USO tour and took a sexually suggestive photo while she was sleeping; three other women allege Franken grabbed their buttocks while posing with them for photos during separate campaign events in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
‘I take thousands and thousands of pictures, sometimes in chaotic and crowded situations,’ Franken said in an interview aired Monday by CBS. ‘I can’t say I haven’t done that. I’m very sorry if these women experienced that.’
FILE – In a Nov. 15, 2017 file photo, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., speaks during the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Franken has agreed to talk with a handful of Minnesota media outlets on Sunday, Nov. 26, marking his first interviews since the Democrat was swept into a nationwide tide of sexual harassment allegations. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Franken added that he has to be ‘a lot more sensitive, and a lot more careful’ when he takes a picture and when he meets someone: ‘I’m going to make sure that this does not happen again.’
Franken’s interviews with Minnesota media outlets over the weekend were the first interviews granted since being swept into a nationwide tide of sexual misconduct allegations. Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is accused of initiating sexual conduct with teenagers during the 1970s. And Michigan Rep. John Conyers is giving up his leadership position as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee amid a congressional probe into allegations of sexual harassment. Both men deny the allegations.
Franken told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he doesn’t remember taking the specific photos, but said such groping is ‘not something I would intentionally do.’
Asked whether he expected other women to step forward with similar allegations, Franken said: ‘If you had asked me two weeks ago, ‘Would any woman say I had treated her with disrespect?’ I would have said no. So this has just caught me by surprise. … I certainly hope not.’
The first woman to come forward was Los Angeles radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden. She released a photo earlier this month showing the then-comedian grinning while reaching out toward her chest, as if to grope her, as she slept on a military aircraft during a USO tour in 2006.
Franken told Minnesota Public Radio on Sunday the photo was ‘inexcusable.’ He declined to explain it further.
‘What my intention was doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am chained to that photo,’ Franken said. ‘She … didn’t have any ability to consent. She had every right to feel violated by that photo. I have apologized to her, and I was very grateful that she accepted my apology.’
Tweeden said Franken also forcibly kissed her while rehearsing for a USO performance; Franken has said he has a different recollection of the rehearsal.
Franken faces a Senate ethics investigation – which he welcomed in the wake of Tweeden’s allegation – though it’s unclear when that review may begin. Franken, who hasn’t faced widespread calls to resign, said he will fully cooperate.
Franken missed votes after the first accusations were made public. He said he spent the holiday break with his wife and the rest of his family. When he goes back to work Monday, he said, he’ll ask tough questions about proposed tax legislation that ‘would affect Minnesota and the rest of the country in a terrible way.’
Franken sidestepped when asked whether the allegations would make him less effective in the Senate. He noted he has apologized to women who have felt disrespected and ‘to everyone I have let down.’
‘I think this will take some time,’ he told Minnesota Public Radio. ‘I am trying to handle this in a way that adds to an important conversation. And to be a better public servant and a better man. That is what my goal is.’
Franken is set to face voters again in 2020, but he was mum about whether he would run for a third term.
‘It’s far too early to make any assessment about that,’ Franken told The Associated Press on Monday. ‘I’m going to work really hard to regain the trust of the people I’ve let down, and that’s going to take some time.’
Franken came to the Senate after a months-long recount gave him a 312-vote victory in his 2008 election. He immediately tried to distance himself from his decades of professional comedy, which included raunchy writing and off-color jokes. He also avoided national reporters.
Dozens of women who have worked with Franken, including former Senate staffers and women who worked with him on NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live,’ signed statements supporting Franken following Tweeden’s allegations.
AP reporter Kyle Potter contributed to this report.
FILE – In this July 12, 2017, file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington. Two women are alleging, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, that Franken touched their buttocks during events for his first campaign for Senate. The women spoke to Huffington Post on condition of anonymity. The women said the events were in Minneapolis in 2007 and 2008. Franken said in a statement, ‘It’s difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events.’ (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)