U.S. Sen. Al Franken broke his self-imposed silence over the weekend, submitting to a series of media interviews on the sexual misconduct allegations against him, professing his shame and embarrassment. That was a necessary move — Minnesotans and the country at large deserved to hear from him. But his apology falls lamentably short in several respects.
The Minnesota Democrat said in one interview it was important "that we listen to women," but then refuted the story of Leeann Tweeden, the USO entertainer who accused him of shoving his tongue down her throat during a rehearsed "kiss." He recalls "a normal rehearsal," but didn't elaborate. On the subsequent allegations of women who say he groped them during photos — specifically, that he grabbed their buttocks — Franken apologized, but for what, exactly?
He said he does not recall groping and said he "would never intentionally" squeeze or grope a woman but often hugs people. Is he suggesting these women could not distinguish between a friendly embrace and groping? Or that at his age he somehow groped unintentionally? Can one credibly apologize for acts without acknowledging they occurred?
With a Senate ethics investigation looming, Franken remains on politically shaky ground. It's debatable whether he is, as he said, "holding myself accountable." Without saying he didn't do it, he nevertheless has countered every allegation except the one that carries indisputable proof — the infamous photo of him appearing to grab at Tweeden while she slept.
Under such circumstances, Franken's apology is less a statement of accountability and more akin to "I'm sorry for what you think I did." Franken may just be trying to ride out the storm, as is the case too often these days. After all, President Donald Trump survived multiple sexual misconduct allegations to become president, and it's possible that Roy Moore will become Alabama's next senator despite credible allegations that he molested a 14-year-old and repeatedly approached underage teens. Moore's conduct is in a different league from what Franken is accused of, but none of it is acceptable.
Franken has declared himself ready to get back to work — and well he should. While he was busy reflecting, his voice was absent from important issues — a damaging Senate tax bill that may be hurtling toward a floor vote this week; an effort to undo net neutrality — of which he has been the most prominent critic; a dismantling of the State Department, and on and on. At least in the short term, Franken's effectiveness will be hampered by persistent questions about the allegations, the ethics investigation and the lingering possibility that other women may come forward — something Franken does not dismiss.
There has been other damage. Abby Honold, brutally raped by Daniel Drill-Mellum, a former Franken intern, had earlier this fall asked Franken to sponsor legislation to help rape victims. Honold sought a different sponsor after the Franken allegations came to light. But that has triggered a wave of vitriol from Franken's supporters. Franken has said publicly he supports Honold's decision, but he is unable to stop her from becoming collateral damage.
Franken is right — he has much to do to regain Minnesotans' trust. It may not be possible. As he continues his reflection, we urge the senator to consider what is best for Minnesota and to weigh that more heavily than what might be best for his political career.