WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who was the first of Al Franken’s Democratic colleagues to call for his resignation last year amid mounting accusations of improper behavior toward women, defended her decision to do so at a forum Tuesday night on women in politics.
Gillibrand said publicly asking Franken to resign “was a very hard and difficult thing because, yes, he is our friend, we admire him, we thought he did a great job as senator, particularly on the Judiciary Committee. But with eight credible allegations of groping and harassment, staying silent was not an option for me anymore, and each time I stayed silent and said nothing, each time I did not stand up and say it’s not OK — just enough was enough.”
Gillibrand’s call in early December for Franken’s resignation was quickly echoed by more than a dozen of her Democratic colleagues; Franken announced his decision to step down a day later. That sequence of events has continued to reverberate in Minnesota and national Democratic politics; Gillibrand has faced criticism from some prominent Democratic donors.
Critics said Gillibrand should have waited for a Senate ethics investigation to play out, and some accused her of trying to score political points as a possible 2020 presidential contender.
“While Sen. Franken is entitled to every measure of due process he wanted, whether he wants to go to his ethics committee hearing, whether he wants to sue every one of his accusers and go to a court of law ... my only choice is whether I speak out and say I believe these women, and that it’s not OK,” Gillibrand said Tuesday. “When you are silent, you are carrying someone’s water and you are defending them implicitly.”
Since resigning in early January, Franken has continued to periodically post to his Facebook page, and recently spoke at a cybersecurity conference in Portugal. Prominent Minnesota Democrats have continued to support him publicly; on Monday, his successor, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, tweeted him birthday wishes.
Gillibrand was speaking and taking questions Tuesday at an event centered on how to support female candidates in a year when women are running for office in record numbers. State Rep. Ilhan Omar also spoke at the event.