Al Franken on the sexual misconduct claims against him: 'I feel ashamed'

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In his first public appearance since allegations surfaced, Democratic senator said he was ‘tremendously sorry’ and would work to regain public’s trust

Al Franken has been accused by several women of sexually inappropriate behavior and groping.
Al Franken has been accused by several women of sexually inappropriate behavior and groping. Photograph: Greg Mathieson/Rex/Shutterstock

A chastened Al Franken said on Monday he would never repeat the behavior that led multiple women to accuse him of sexual misconduct.

The Democratic senator and former comedian told reporters on Capitol Hill he was “tremendously sorry”, adding: “This has been a shock, and it’s been extremely humbling ... I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed.”

“I know there are no magic words I can say to regain your trust and I know that is going to take time,” Franken said.

“I know I’m going to have to be much more conscious in these circumstances, much more careful, much more sensitive, and that this will not happen again going forward.”

The Minnesota senator’s comments marked his first public appearance before reporters in Washington since broadcaster Leeann Tweeden accused him earlier this month of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 tour to entertain US troops. Tweeden also released a photo in which Franken appeared to place his hands over her breasts while she was sleeping.

Since then, three women have alleged that Franken grabbed their buttocks while posing for photos between 2007 and 2010. One of the women said Franken suggested she join him in the bathroom at a fundraiser.

Franken, who was elected to the Senate in 2008, had previously apologized to the accusers in written statements. He has nonetheless maintained that he did not recall some of the events, noting he has posed for thousands of photos. Franken also disputed Tweeden’s account that he kissed her without consent, but apologized nonetheless for how it made her feel.

On Monday, Franken reiterated that he had a different recollection of the kiss, which occurred during a skit rehearsal. He nonetheless added: “I feel you have to respect the women’s experience.

I am tremendously sorry, and I know that I am going to have to be much more conscious when in these circumstances, much more careful, and much more sensitive.”

Franken also spoke to a handful of Minnesota-based media outlets on Sunday, and acknowledged in one interview that he could not say with certainty that more women would not come forward with allegations of groping.

“If you had said to me two weeks ago that a woman was going to say that I had made her uncomfortable and disrespected her in one of these ways I would have said ‘no’,” Franken told Minnesota Public Radio. “So, you know, I don’t know. I can’t say.”

The controversy surrounding Franken comes as several powerful men have been accused of sexual misconduct, including former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey and journalists Charlie Rose and Mark Halperin.

Multiple women have alleged they were sexually assaulted by Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. Several of the women said they were underage at the time. Donald Trump, who has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault, has publicly endorsed Moore amid the fallout.

Reporting has also shed light on the culture on Capitol Hill, where women have said sexual harassment is “rampant”. The process for filing claims of sexual misconduct has come under intense scrutiny, with some lawmakers demanding reforms.

Allegations that congressman John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, quietly settled a sexual harassment claim from a former employee illuminated the lack of accountability when US lawmakers are accused of misconduct or inappropriate behavior.

Conyers announced on Sunday he will step aside as the top Democrat on the House judiciary committee, less than a week after a BuzzFeed investigation disclosed he paid a former employee a $27,000 settlement as part of a confidentiality agreement and a second woman accused the congressman of misconduct.

Both Conyers and Franken have said they have no intention to resign and are committed to cooperating with an ethics investigation.

Asked on Monday what the bar for resignation should be for a sitting member of Congress, Franken declined to say.

“I am not going to get into that or speculate,” he said. “I am trying to take responsibility by apologizing.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting,” Franken added. “I want to be someone who adds something to this conversation, and I hope I can do that.”