Sen. Al Franken said he’s open to making the findings of his Ethics Committee investigation public on Monday, addressing reporters on Capitol Hill for the first time since facing a number of sexual harassment allegations.
“I have not worked with the Ethics Committee before, so I don’t know how that works, but I am certainly open to that. I am going to try to learn from my mistakes,” Mr. Franken told reporters.
“I have been doing a lot of reflecting, and I want to be someone who adds something to this conversation, and I hope I could do that.”
The Minnesota Democrat returned to work on Monday after the Thanksgiving break had ensnared two other lawmakers in sexual misconduct charges — Reps. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, and Joe Barton, Texas Republican. The cases come on top of sexual assault and inappropriate relationships accusations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama and a daily torrent of career-killing charges against leading entertainment and journalism figures.
On the Conyers charges, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Monday evening that she has spoken with and now believes one of the accusers who’ve lodged complaints of harassment against Mr. Conyers, as the country’s top female official tried to clean up the mess she’d left a day earlier.
The California Democrat on Sunday had questioned the accusers’ veracity, supported Mr. Conyers and blamed President Trump for some of the bad behavior. But on Monday Mrs. Pelosi said she has now spoken with Melanie Sloan, one of three women who have publicly complained about Mr. Conyers, and supports her.
“Ms. Sloan told me that she had publicly discussed distressing experiences while on his staff. I find the behavior Ms. Sloan described unacceptable and disappointing. I believe what Ms. Sloan has told me,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Mrs. Pelosi said she still has yet to speak with Mr. Conyers’ other accusers, pointing out that one of them is prevented from speaking because of the “secretive settlement process” the House has in place to pay off accusers and shield their complaints.
“That ridiculous system must be ended and victims who want to come forward to the Ethics Committee must be able to do so,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Mr. Conyers, like Mr. Moore — but unlike Mr. Franken — flatly denies any inappropriate behavior.
In Mr. Franken’s case, the purported misconduct was first made public earlier this month by Leeann Tweeden, a model and radio host, who says he “forcibly kissed” and fondled her in 2006. More women came forward after Ms. Tweeden’s accusation. He allegedly grabbed the women’s buttocks during photographs at separate events. Two of the three women spoke to The Huffington Post anonymously last week.
On Monday Mr. Franken repeated apologies to voters, aides and “everyone who has counted on me to be a champion for women.”
“I know there are no magic words I can say to regain your trust, and I know that’s going to take time,” Mr. Franken said before a Senate vote. “I’m ready to start that process, and it starts with going back to work today.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called for an ethics investigation into Mr. Franken after the accusations surfaced earlier this month.
Reps. Barbara Comstock, Virginia Republican, and Jackie Speier, California Democrat, have sponsored a resolution requiring lawmakers and staff to annually complete anti-harassment training, matching a move the Senate made earlier this month. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday.
Mrs. Pelosi said her conversations with Ms. Sloan, whom she called “a respected ethics expert and attorney,” had provided her with “valuable feedback into the substantive reforms many of us in Congress are advocating to foster a climate of respect and dignity, and to protect legislative branch employees.”
When Mr. Franken was asked whether more women would be coming forward with charges of sexual misconduct, the Minnesota Democrat gave an evasive answer.
“If you had asked me two weeks ago, ‘would any woman come forward with an allegation like this?’ I would have said no,” Mr. Franken said, apologizing again for his actions, saying he feels “ashamed.”
He did not say whether he will step down from any of his committee assignments.
He also avoided directly answering whether he would face Minnesota voters again by running for a third term when his seat expires in 2020.
“It’s far too early to make any assessment about that,” he 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.”