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Franken talk abounds, but senator quiet

U.S. Sen. Al Franken looks up at a voter talking to him after a Minnesota State Fair radio interview on Aug. 28, 2014. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Former women staffers of U.S. Sen. Al Franken said he treated them well, the woman who accused him of sexual harassment does not think he should resign and some of his long-time supporters are struggling with accepting of his actions.

The Democratic Minnesota senator remained out of the public eye Friday, Nov. 17, and released no statements the day after a Los Angeles radio host accused him of forcibly kissing her during a show rehearsal and having his picture taken looking like he is groping her breasts while she slept at the end of a USO tour.

But there was plenty of talk about Franken, a former comedian, "Saturday Night Live" star and writer, author and liberal talk show host.

President Donald Trump was one who weighed in on the Franken situation.

"The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & while she sleeps?" tweeted Trump, who 11 women have accused of unwanted touching or kissing.

However, eight former female Franken staffers released their own statement: "In our time working for the senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices."

Many were like state Auditor Rebecca Otto, a governor candidate, who expressed mixed emotions.

"It's hard," Otto told a rally of women's organizations while saying he should resign. "He's a friend. He's an ally. He is effective. But we can't have a double standard."

However, Leeann Tweedon, the woman who accuses Franken of harassment, told "Good Morning America" that she is not asking Franken to leave the Senate.

"I think Al Franken does a lot of good things in the Senate," she said. "You know, I think that's for the people of Minnesota to decide."

As she made stops on a series of television shows, Tweedon also said that she received a letter from Franken. She read what she said was the letter on "The View."

"I want to apologize to you personally," Tweedon read. "I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, but that doesn't matter. There's no excuse and I understand why you could feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently, but what's important is the impact it had on you and you felt violated by my actions and for that I apologize."

In Minnesota, some of his Democratic supporters appeared in shock.

"I trusted him," Sandra Pietron of St. Paul said, drawing her words carefully, to ensure they carried weight. "I'm deeply disappointed."

"I was shocked. I was sad," said Karla Sand of Maplewood, who chairs the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Senior Caucus. "I was already sad because of (allegations against state Sen.) Dan Schoen, but then, Al."

The Washington Post reported that a University of Minnesota student is looking for another senator to sponsor a bill she and Franken wrote to help rape survivors like herself. Franken planned to introduce the bill this month, Abby Honold said.

Honold was raped by another university student in 2014. She asked Franken to introduce a bill providing federal money to train peace officers and first responders in how to interview sex assault victims.

"He was one of the few people who listened to me and actually let me talk," Honold told the Post. "It felt really validating to be heard and to see something come of my experience that was positive for other people."

Now, however, she said things have changed.

"It's really difficult when someone who has been a champion for you turns out to be the exact opposite for someone else," the 22-year-old Honold said.

Late-night television hosts featured Franken in their monologues, some seriously, some with humor.

Jimmy Fallon on NBC's "The Tonight Show" compared Franken to Trump: "Radio host Leeann Tweedon came forward and said Sen. Al Franken groped her without her consent, and she posted a photo as evidence. In fact, it's so bad, Franken's already a front-runner for president in 2020."

Ironically, in recent months Franken — a frequent Trump critic — had been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, talk that suddenly stopped Thursday.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.