WASHINGTON – Sen. Al Franken returned to work Monday, still facing a barrage of questions about his treatment of women and his ability to do his job.
The Washington press corps had been waiting since before the holiday to hear Franken speak about allegations that he groped or harassed at least four different women. On Monday afternoon, they crowded outside his office as the Minnesota Democrat stepped out to offer another apology, and a promise that it won’t happen again.
“I just want to say a few words before I get back to work,” Franken said, speaking into a bank of microphones outside his office. “To all of you, I just want to again say that I’m sorry. I know there are no magic words I can say to regain your trust and I know that’s going to take time. I’m ready to start that process, and that starts with going back to work today.”
Franken’s public appearance came a day after he granted interviews to several media outlets in Minnesota, reiterating his apologies and detailing his plan to return to work. Nine days earlier, Franken was accused of sexual harassment by a fellow performer on a 2006 USO tour. Leeann Tweeden’s account of being forcibly kissed by Franken during a rehearsal was accompanied by a photo of a grinning Franken, posing with his hands over the apparently sleeping woman’s chest. That allegation was followed by accounts from three other women who said Franken had put his hand on their backsides as they posed for photos with him.
“There are some women — and one is too many — who feel that I’ve done something disrespectful, and I’ve hurt them,” he said. “And for that I am tremendously sorry. And I know that I am going to have to be much more conscious in these circumstances, much more careful, much more sensitive. … This will not happen again.”
The allegations lumped Franken in with dozens of other powerful men in politics, entertainment and the media who have been accused of using the power of their position to harass and humiliate women. Franken, who brushed off questions about whether he should resign, said he recalls the rehearsal kiss differently and does not remember touching women inappropriately during photo ops at all, but said “you have to respect women’s experience.”
“I’m going to try to learn from my mistakes,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. I want to be someone who adds something to this conversation. I hope I can do that.”
The rest of Franken’s day, his staff said, consisted of a legislative meeting, committee work and evening floor votes. On Wednesday, Franken will be back in the spotlight when he and the rest of the Senate Judiciary Committee question Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, who has been nominated to a seat on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s been extremely humbling. I am embarrassed, I feel ashamed,” Franken said. “What I’m going to do is, I’m going to start my job and go back to work, and work as hard as I can for the people of Minnesota, and I’m going to start that right now.”