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Sen. Al Franken to resign from Senate amid sexual harassment allegations

U.S. Senate
U.S. Senate

(WASHINGTON) — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken will resign from the United States Senate he said on Thursday, an announcement he made a day after a number of his Democratic colleagues called for him to step down amid mounting allegations that he sexually harassed women.

“Today I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate,” said Franken, adding, “It’s become clear that I can’t both pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for [the people of Minnesota].”

Franken also sought to highlight the difference in his response contrasted with Senate candidate Roy Moore, who, ahead of Tuesday’s special election in Alabama, now has support from President Donald Trump, the Republican National Committee, and a growing number of Republican senators. At least eight women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior toward them when he was in his 30s and, in some cases, the women were in their teens.

Moore has denied the allegations.

Roughly a dozen women accused Trump of sexual harassment or assault during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump denied all of the allegations, called his accusers liars and threatened to sue them.

“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of the sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.

The allegations against the senator began less than three weeks ago with the account of a Los Angeles radio host who described Franken’s actions while the pair were on a USO trip together in 2006. Though he apologized, acknowledged some wrongdoing and called for an ethics investigation to be initiated, Franken resisted early calls for his resignation, even after additional accusations of misconduct surfaced.

The tipping point seemed to come earlier in the day Wednesday, when, in what was a coordinated effort, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., each called for Franken to resign.

A host of additional Democratic legislators and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez later joined the initial group of female senators in urging Franken to give up his seat.

In November, Leeann Tweeden, the radio host, was the first to go public with her allegation against Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her over ten years ago. Tweeden claimed that Franken “forcibly kissed me without my consent” while rehearsing for a skit on an United Service Organizations tour to entertain U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“I felt disgusted and violated,” Tweeden wrote of the alleged incident in a blog post published Nov. 17.

Tweeden further wrote that Franken groped her while she was sleeping and included a photo of Franken appearing to place his hands on her chest.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken wrote in paper statement apologizing to Tweeden. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

The radio host accepted the apology, and, at the time, said she felt Franken should not step down from his Senate seat.

After the allegations surfaced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for an ethics investigation into Franken and the 2006 incident with Tweeden.

Tweeden said she was inspired to go public with her story after two congresswomen testified in a House committee hearing that their colleagues on Capitol Hill had engaged in sexual harassment, including groping and exposing their genitals.

After Tweeden, six other women came out with similar allegations against Franken.

Franken became known to the public as a comedian and cast member of the NBC sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” for 15 seasons.

The Minnesota native decided to pursue politics, winning a close election recount in the 2008 Minnesota race and reelected to a second term in 2014. Before his resignation, Franken had been mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

During his time in the Senate, Franken sponsored legislation that combatted sexual assault and violence against women. As the powerful Hollywood executives and producers faced a reckoning over sexual harassment and assault allegations, attention also turned to those in power on Capitol Hill.

Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and other female congressional members shared their “#MeToo” accounts of sexual harassment and assault during a hearing to review sexual misconduct policy in the House. Franken had spoken out in support of Speier and the women.

“Sexual harassment and violence are unacceptable. We all must do our part to listen, stand with, and support survivors.” Franken tweeted.

Franken is the second lawmaker to leave Congress in the wake of the “#MeToo” movement and sexual harassment allegations brought forth against congressional members. On Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., announced his retirement after more than 50 years in the House of Representatives following accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

In her statement Wednesday calling for Franken to step down, Gillibrand said that she has “no doubt” there will be more accusations against Democratic and Republican lawmakers ‘because Congress is not immune to this scourge.”

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton  and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith released a statements on Thursday extending their thoughts to the women who accused Franken of misconduct. Dayton says he has not yet selected Franken’s replacement, who will fill the Senate seat until a 2018 special election.

Smith, considered a candidate to fill Franken’s seat until that election, said “it is on all of us to come together and make the progress necessary to live up to the values we believe in.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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