- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sen. Al Franken on Thursday denied accusations that he forced himself on women, declared himself a champion of women’s rights and begrudgingly announced he would quit the Senate for the good of the people in his home state.

The Minnesota Democrat has been under a cloud for three weeks, accused by eight women of forcibly kissing them or grabbing their buttocks and breasts, and under pressure to resign from most of his Democratic colleagues in the upper chamber.

But Mr. Franken, who becomes the second Capitol Hill Democrat swept from office in the backlash against sexual harassment washing over the country, refused to go quietly.

He insisted that the real abusers of women were President Trump and Republican Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, a refrain Democratic lawmakers and liberal pundits are primed to repeat throughout the 2018 election cycle.

“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 sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigning for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Mr. Franken said on the Senate floor.

He was referring to the 2005 hot-mic recording in which Mr. Trump boasted that his celebrity status gave him license to kiss and grope women. Mr. Franken also referenced accusations that Mr. Moore had pursued romantic relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

“But this decision is not about me. It is about the people of Minnesota,” Mr. Franken said, adding that he couldn’t continue to defend himself and remain an effective senator for his state.

“I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice,” he said, vowing to continue to work as a political activists. “I’m going to be just fine.”

His swan song outraged Stephanie Kemplin, one of the eight women who have accused him of lewd behavior.

“I have to say that I am so sad and appalled at his lack of response and him owning up to what he did,” Ms. Kemplin said on MSNBC. “I feel that he just keeps passing the buck and making it out to be something that we took his behavior the wrong way, or we misconstrued something, or just flat-out lied about what happened to us.”

Ms. Kemplin, an Army veteran, has accused Mr. Franken of groping her during a 2003 photo op in Kuwait.

“Justice to me would be him owning up to what he did and to stop trying to pass the buck to other individuals who possibly did commit the same things, possibly more heinous, than what he’s done,” she said.

Mr. Franken was virtually abandoned by not only his Democratic colleagues but also the far-left political movement that once claimed him as its own.

The extent of his downfall was illustrated by a headline on the left-wing online news site Think Progress: “Al Franken’s crushing betrayal of the progressive cause.”

Echoing Mr. Franken’s resignation speech, however, Think Progress turned its attention to Republicans: “His decision to step down comes amid so many other powerful men accused of sexual harassment (or worse) who remain in power and unaccountable, like, say, our current president,” it said. “Meanwhile, as Democrats excommunicate accused sexual harassers, Republicans are trying to get an alleged child sex predators elected.”

Mr. Franken did not immediately surrender his Senate seat. He said he would formally resign in coming weeks.

The Cook Political Report immediately updated its rating of Minnesota’s Senate race to “toss-up” in the wake of the Franken resignation.

Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, will appoint a replacement until a special election is held in November, in accordance with state law.

The reluctant departure of Mr. Franken, a sometimes risque comedian and “Saturday Night Live” cast member decades before his political career, was part of a national uprising against sexual predation by wealthy, famous and otherwise powerful men.

The senator followed Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, who resigned Tuesday after a series of women accused him sexual misconduct that spanned decades.

Roll Call reported Thursday that Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, was expected to resign as well, although he has not been publicly accused of sexual misconduct.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, Nevada Democrat, has been accused of propositioning and inappropriately touching a female staffer. Democratic leaders have called on him to resign.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, Texas Republican, reportedly settled a sexual harassment complaint by an aide in 2014. He has said he would repay the $84,000 in taxpayer money used to settle the complaint.

The wave of recrimination that began with sexual assault accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October also exposed sexual misconduct allegations against “House of Cards” actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., NBC’s “Today” host Matt Lauer, and talk show host Charlie Rose of CBS and PBS fame.

Mr. Franken said that he had welcomed the national conversation about sexual harassment and that he thought it was “long overdue.”

The surprise, he said, was when the accusers came knocking at his door.

“I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claims, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously,” he said.

Though he was convinced his response was the right thing to do, he said it also “gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true; others I remember very differently.”

Time began to run out Wednesday for Mr. Franken when a seventh accuser came forward. By the end of the day, at least at least 32 of the 49 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus had called on him to resign, as did Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

The resign calls were led by 13 Senate Democratic women, with the first coming from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime champion of sexual assault victims.

Later that day, an eighth accuser emerged.

The two latest accusations against Mr. Franken were similar to the complaints voiced by the six other women.

A former Democratic congressional aide told Politico that Mr. Franken attempted to forcibly kiss her and chased her around an office after taping his radio show in 2006, two years before he was elected to the Senate.

“It’s my right as an entertainer,” he told the young woman, according to her account.

Mr. Franken called that accusation “categorically not true.”

The eighth accuser attached her name to the charges: Atlantic writer Tina Dupuy posted an article titled “I Believe Franken’s Accusers Because He Groped Me, Too.”

• Sally Persons and Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.

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