Al Franken succumbed to pressure to resign from the Senate because he could not explain the nuance involved and because a conspiracy of right-wing media figures, led by revenge-minded Fox News, was too much for him to overcome, according to a story Monday on the New Yorker website.
“Franken tried to devise a response” to allegations from Leeann Tweeden, a conservative radio talk show host in Los Angeles, that he had forced his tongue down her mouth in an unwanted kiss and had a photo taken of him grabbing her breasts through her flak jacket in December 2006 on a flight back from a USO Tour in Afghanistan.
But “he found it ‘impossible to explain the context of the goofing around everybody had been doing, so I just said, ‘It was a joke – it wasn’t funny, and I apologize,’” wrote Jane Mayer in “The Case of Al Franken” – subhead: “A close look at the accusations against the former senator.”
The close look was basically Mayer stretching to discredit Tweeden’s account, quoting numerous Democrat senators decrying their rush to judgment against Franken, who represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, and suggesting Fox News set up the whole thing as revenge for Franken and Fox News host Sean Hannity getting into an argument in a green room in the mid-1990s.
Tweeden released a statement on the KABC radio website, where she worked, in November 2017 claiming Franken told her he had written a skit to be performed at the USO show that involved her and required the two to kiss. He then insisted on rehearsing the kiss. When she begged off, he grabbed her and forced his tongue down her throat, she wrote. Within two weeks, Franken, whom Mayer wrote “was being talked up as a possible challenger to President Donald Trump in 2020” and “had proved himself to be one of the most effective critics of the Trump administration,” was forced to resign.
Tweeden included in her statement a photo of Franken grabbing her breasts through the flak jacket, and Mayer tried to discredit it as well, writing that Franken had simply “reenacted” another gag from the USO show and that the picture showed Franken “mugging for the camera as he performs a lecherous pantomime,” “leering at the lens with his hands outstretched toward the breasts of his USO co-star” to the point where they were “practically touching her chest, and Tweeden looks to be asleep” and “pretending to grope her while she slept.”
Mayer then wrote that “There was a history of deep animosity between Fox News’ conservative hosts and Franken” that stemmed from his 2003 book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” for which Fox News sued Franken over its attacks on the network in general and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in particular.
When Fox dropped the suit, Mayer wrote, “O’Reilly threatened vengeance,” ominously telling Andrea Mackris, who later sued O’Reilly for sexual harassment, “If you cross Fox News Channel, it’s not just me, it’s Roger Ailes … who will go after you. Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day BAM! The person gets what’s coming to them but never sees it coming. Look at Al Franken, one day he’s going to get a knock on his door and life as he’s known it will change forever. That day will happen, trust me.”
Franken wrote an apology to Tweeden, which she read during an appearance on “The View,” Mayer wrote. But then seven additional women came forward with allegations of groping or unwanted kisses.
“A pattern of misbehavior is often crucial to proving sexual misconduct,” Mayer wrote. She asked Franken about it.
“‘My first instinct was ‘This doesn’t make any sense. This didn’t happen.’ But then, when they started adding up, I said, ‘Well, maybe I’m doing something I’m not aware of.’”
Photo by Lorie Shaull