Ex-US Senator Al Franken regrets resigning over sexual misconduct claims

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Former US Senator Al Franken leaves the Senate floor on 7 December, 2017 after delivering a speech resigning from his postImage source, The Washington Post via Getty Images
Image caption,
Former US Senator Al Franken leaves the Senate floor on 7 December, 2017 after delivering a speech resigning from his post

Former US Senator Al Franken has said he "absolutely" regrets resigning from his post in 2017 following a wave of accusations of sexual misconduct.

The Minnesota Democrat stepped down just three weeks after allegations of unwanted touching first surfaced, amid mounting pressure from colleagues.

Mr Franken told The New Yorker he wished his case had first been examined by the Senate Ethics Committee.

Now, seven of the 36 Democrats who demanded he resign say they regret it.

Mr Franken's hastened resignation came after Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden claimed the former Saturday Night Live comic "aggressively" kissed her while they rehearsed a scene during a 2006 tour to entertain US troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Ms Tweeden's account was bolstered by a photo of the two, in which Mr Franken appeared to touch her breasts while she slept. Her accusations were quickly followed by claims from seven additional women of groping or unwanted touching.

Mr Franken told the New Yorker he is working to examine how his behaviour may have made these women uncomfortable and better understand what he did wrong. But he has consistently denied the version of events portrayed by Ms Tweeden.

Media caption,
Franken attacked Donald Trump and Roy Moore in his resignation speech

"Differentiating different kinds of behaviour is important," he said. "The idea that anybody who accuses someone of something is always right -that's not the case. That isn't reality."

Ms Tweeden declined to comment to the New Yorker.

As pressure from his colleagues escalated, Mr Franken recounted a late-night meeting with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in which Mr Schumer issued an ultimatum: Mr Franken must quit or the minority leader would rally the entire Democratic caucus to call for his resignation.

Al Franken: Regret along the moral high road?

Al Franken, a prominent casualty of the early #MeToo movement, regrets throwing in the towel so quickly - and many Democrats agree.

New Yorker author Jane Mayer lays out the case for Franken. She doesn't so much contest the allegations as offer mitigating evidence and suggest that other #MeToo targets - some still in positions of power and influence - did much worse.

At the time, Democratic calls for Franken's resignation were explained as a way to ensure that a single standard on sexual conduct applied to friend and foe alike. It allowed those on the left to condemn Alabama Republican Roy Moore and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for alleged misdeeds without accusations of hypocrisy.

That Franken was replaced by another Democrat made the sacrifice a bit easier.

Even so, Democrats are now wondering whether the moral high road was worth it. Donald Trump frequently contradicts himself. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell observes congressional norms based on political expediency.

As Democrats survey the political landscape, they might conclude that the price of hypocrisy has never been lower.

If you don't think the other side plays by the same rules, it won't be long before there are no rules at all.

Through a spokesperson, Mr Schumer denied that he threatened to turn his caucus against Mr Franken, but confirmed he called upon the Minnesota Democrat to step down.

Mr Schumer's demand came before any independent investigation or Senate Ethics Committee hearing had taken place.

"I couldn't believe it," Mr Franken told The New Yorker. "I asked him for due process and he said no."

Image source, Alex Wong/Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Franken, pictured here listening to Mr Schumer's weekly briefing, said he was issued an ultimatum by the minority leader

Several Democrats told the New Yorker they regret their own role in Mr Franken's downfall during the winter of 2017.

Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, called his role in Mr Franken's resignation "one of the biggest mistakes I've made" in his 45 years in the US Senate.

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth echoed Mr Leahy's regret, and lamented the absence of any investigation or hearing into Mr Franken's behaviour.

It is important to acknowledge the trauma of Mr Franken's accusers, Ms Duckworth said, but added: "We needed more facts. That due process didn't happen is not good for our democracy."