WASHINGTON (AP) — A contrite Al Franken said Monday he knows he “let a lot of people down” — the people of Minnesota, Senate colleagues and staff — amid accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior. He vowed to try to regain their trust.
The Democrat and former “Saturday Night Live” comedian was a far cry from his jocular self as he delivered a brief statement outside his Capitol Hill office and answered a few questions from reporters more than a week after the complaints surfaced.
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.
Franken dismissed a question about resignation and promised to cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.
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“I’ve been trying to take responsibility by apologizing. And by apologizing to the people I’ve let down. And I’m going to work to regain their trust. I am going to be accountable,” he said.
Franken said, “I know I let a lot of people down. … Everyone counted on me to be a champion for women.”
The senator had remained largely out of sight during the congressional break and had no public event. Ahead of a Senate vote Monday night, Franken spoke briefly to reporters.
“I know there are no magic words I can say to regain your trust and I know that’s going to take time,” Franken said. “I’m ready to start that process and it starts with going back to work today.”
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 Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio news anchor. 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, though it’s unclear when that review may begin. Franken, who hasn’t faced widespread calls to resign, said he will fully cooperate.
Franken said he spent the holiday break with his wife and the rest of his family. He 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 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 from St. Paul, Minnesota.