- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2017

Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s sexual misconduct woes became a campaign issue in the Minnesota governor’s race this week as new allegations of groping two more women surfaced and the senator himself issued a new statement Thursday.

The Minnesota Republican Party moved to link Mr. Franken to Rep. Tim Walz, a leading candidate for the gubernatorial nod of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party next year, faulting him for refusing to return $54,000 in Franken campaign donations made over the last decade.

Tim Walz is standing by Al Franken, keeping his campaign cash and refusing to call on him to resign,” said the Minnesota GOP in a statement. “This comes as other high-profile Democrats have already promised to return the Franken campaign cash.”

The two leading female candidates for the DFL nomination for governor — state Rep. Erin Murphy and state auditor Rebecca Otto — last week called for Mr. Franken to step down after a photo showing him apparently groping a sleeping Leeann Tweeden in 2006 went public.

Adding to the pressure on Mr. Franken was the announcement Tuesday that two Minnesota state legislators, DFL state Sen. Dan Schoen and GOP state Rep. Tony Cornish, plan to resign in the aftermath of sexual harassment allegations.

“This is a step in the right direction. Sexual harassment has no place in our society,” said Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan in a statement. “I renew my call for Sen. Al Franken to also do the right thing for the people of Minnesota and resign as a United States Senator.”

On Thursday, Mr. Franken issued a Thanksgiving Day statement apologizing to Minnesota voters “for putting them through this” and saying that he is “committed to regaining their trust.”

His Thursday statement did not directly address the calls that he step aside, but a Franken staffer told reporters in Minnesota that the senator would not resign.

Earlier this week, two more women came forward, telling the Huffington Post in a Wednesday report that he groped their backsides in separate incidents and bringing the number of accusers to four.

The two latest women asked to remain anonymous.

One said that he grabbed her buttocks during a photo op at a June 2007 event hosted by the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus, while the other said that he “cupped her butt” at a 2008 fundraiser in Minneapolis, then suggested they visit the restroom.

“My immediate reaction was disgust,” the second woman said. “But my secondary reaction was disappointment. I was excited to be there and to meet him. And so to have that happen really deflated me. It felt like: ‘Is this really the person who is going to be in a position of power to represent our community?’”

The allegations are reminiscent of those made by Lindsay Menz, who told CNN that Mr. Franken grabbed her bottom as they posed for a photo together at the Minnesota State Fair in August 2010, after he had been elected to the Senate.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, Mr. Franken said, “It’s difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events,” and denied “categorically” that he propositioned a woman to join him in a bathroom.

Both women said they told several people about the incidents afterward.

But in his Thursday statement, Mr. Franken put forth a tentative response to the latest charges, though again he didn’t address them directly.

“I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many,” he said.

Mr. Walz, the DFL gubernatorial hopeful, said in a Tuesday statement that he was “shocked” by the initial allegation against Mr. Franken by Ms. Tweeden, now a Los Angeles news anchor, who said that in addition to the photo, he had kissed her aggressively and groped her during a 2006 USO tour.

“We have seen statements from his office, but a lot of us would like to hear from him directly,” Mr. Walz said, adding that resignation should be “on the table.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Walz told WCCO-TV that he had no plans to return the campaign contributions from Mr. Franken.

A slew of progressive groups, including Justice Democrats, UltraViolet and CREDO, have called for Mr. Franken to step down, while 36 women who worked with him, both in front of and behind the camera, on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” issued this week a statement of “solidarity,” saying he never behaved inappropriately with them.

“What Al did was stupid and foolish, and we think it was appropriate for him to apologize to Ms. Tweeden, and to the public,” said the statement, whose signers included comediennes Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman.

“In our experience, we know Al as a devoted and dedicated family man, a wonderful comedic performer, and an honorable public servant,” they said.

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