Sen. Al Franken is one of several lawmakers and candidates facing sexual harassment allegations, amid a national outcry over misconduct that has roiled Hollywood, media and politics. | Alex Brandon/AP
A former Democratic congressional aide said Al Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, three years before he became a U.S. senator.
The aide, whose name POLITICO is withholding to protect her identity, said Franken (D-Minn.) pursued her after her boss had left the studio. She said she was gathering her belongings to follow her boss out of the room. When she turned around, Franken was in her face.
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The former staffer ducked to avoid Franken’s lips. As she hastily left the room, she said, Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
“He was between me and the door and he was coming at me to kiss me. It was very quick and I think my brain had to work really hard to be like ‘Wait, what is happening?’ But I knew whatever was happening was not right and I ducked,” the aide said in an interview. “I was really startled by it and I just sort of booked it towards the door and he said, ‘It’s my right as an entertainer.’”
The former staffer, who was in her mid-20s at the time of the incident, said she did not respond to Franken.
The woman said she had never met Franken prior to the incident. Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008 but began ramping up his political activity in 2006.
Franken, who has been accused by six other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them, denied the accusation.
“This allegation is categorically not true and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous. I look forward to fully cooperating with the ongoing ethics committee investigation,” Franken said in a statement to POLITICO.
Two former colleagues of the woman independently corroborated her version of events, including Franken telling her he had the right to try to kiss her because he was “an entertainer.” The first former colleague interviewed by POLITICO said she was told of the incident in 2006, shortly after it happened. The second former co-worker said she was made aware of the encounter sometime in 2009 or 2010.
Franken is one of several lawmakers and candidates facing sexual harassment allegations, amid a national outcry over misconduct that has roiled Hollywood, media and politics. On Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) resigned after multiple former female aides accused him of harassing them.
Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, faced a drumbeat of demands from top Democrats to step down. No Senate Democrats have called on Franken to resign, though a smattering of House Democrats have done so.
The former congressional aide, a longtime Democrat, said she is not attempting to force Franken out of office by coming forward now. Her aim is to encourage the former comedian to acknowledge that his behavior towards her and other women was intentional.
“His resignation is not the top of the list there. That’s not my point. It’s not up to me what he does,” the former staffer said.
Franken has said he was “ashamed” about the prior reported incidents but has also said through a spokesperson that he “never intentionally engaged in that kind of conduct.”
The former staffer said a more direct statement of culpability – not just differing recollections of events, as Franken has offered in apologizing to other women – could help shift the national conversation about sexual assault and push harassers to take ownership of their behavior.
“I don’t want to be in the position of deciding whether to tell this story but I’m not the person who put me in that position. He did that,” the woman said. “I think for this moment in time to lead to meaningful change there has to be more than ‘I’m ashamed but I remember things differently’ accounting.”
The former staffer said she mostly kept the encounter to herself, not even telling her boss at the time. But she started to talk more openly about it to close friends after the “Access Hollywood” video was aired in October 2016. In the now infamous tape, Donald Trump is recorded saying his fame gives him carte blanche to grab women’s genitals.
“When it really started impacting me in more of a ‘I’m really angry about about this’ way was last fall when the Trump tape came out,” the former aide said. “Hearing Donald Trump say essentially the same thing that Al Franken said to me, which was ‘It’s my right as an entertainer,’ that was a real trigger,” she continued.
The former staffer says she was particularly shaken after seeing Franken on TV responding to the Trump tape last year. Franken dismissed Trump’s excuse that he was just engaging in “locker room talk” and joked that maybe Trump worked out with Roger Ailes, the now deceased Fox News chairman who was forced to resign in 2016 amid allegations he sexually harassed several Fox employees.
“It was a moment in time where I told a number of my friends about my experience with Franken because I saw him on the news being asked about the Trump tape and I felt like it was really hypocritical,” the former staffer said. “It’s a power dynamic and the fact that Donald Trump could say that was not much different from the fact that Al Franken could say it.”
Franken took pains to separate himself from Trump earlier this year before he was accused of sexual harassment, saying just because the two were “both in a branch of show business” is no reason to lump them in the same category politically.
“I consider myself a polar opposite of him, I mean I really do,” Franken said on CNBC of Trump in September, two months before the first sexual harassment allegations against the Minnesota Democrat surfaced.
Franken has agreed to cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his behavior.
“I do feel this very heavy responsibility to speak the truth,” the former staffer said. “I don’t think that there are different versions of truth and that’s what’s bothered me a lot about [his] responses.”