Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., returned to work Monday to face reporters in Washington for the first time since allegations by multiple women of sexual harassment were made against him.
“I know that I’ve let a lot of people down, the people of Minnesota, my colleagues, my staff, my supporters, and everyone who has counted on me to be a champion for women,” Franken said in prepared remarks outside his Capitol Hill office before fielding a few questions. “To all of you, I just want to again say I am sorry. I know that there are no magic words that I can say to regain your trust. I know that is going to take time. I’m ready to start that process, and it starts with going back to work today.”
The comments are the first Franken has made in an open setting since the initial allegations were made against him. Earlier this month, radio host Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 holiday USO war zone tour and having a picture taken of himself with his hands over her chest while she was asleep on a military transport plane.
Franken said he does not remember the rehearsal in the way Tweeden described it but “you have to respect women’s experience.” Franken said he apologized to Tweeden and was “very grateful” she accepted his apology.
Three other women came forward with accusations that Franken groped them as they posed with him for photographs on three separate occasions between 2007 and 2010.
Franken said that he has taken “thousands” of photos with tens of thousands of people since first running for office and doesn’t recall the alleged encounters, but “from these stories it’s been clear some” women felt he acted inappropriately.
“One is too many,” Franken 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.”
In a series of interviews with Minnesota news outlets on Sunday, the 66-year-old senator and “Saturday Night Live” alum said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” about his alleged actions, but that he is “looking forward to getting back to work.”
“I’ve let a lot of people down, and I’m hoping I can make it up to them and gradually regain their trust,” Franken told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The newspaper also asked Franken if he expects more women to come forward.
“If you had asked me two weeks ago, ‘Would any woman say I had treated her with disrespect?’ I would have said no. So this has just caught me by surprise,” Franken said. “I certainly hope not.”
Shortly after Tweeden’s initial allegation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for the Senate Ethics Committee to look into the allegations. Franken agreed, and said he would cooperate.
On Sunday, one of Franken’s Senate colleagues, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the Minnesota Democrat should consider stepping down.
But Franken told Minnesota Public Radio that he has no such plans.
“I’m going to do my job, and I’m going to go forward,” he said. “I’m going to take responsibility. I’m going to be held accountable, and I’m going to try to be productive in the way I speak about this.”
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