Before you consider the fate of Al Franken, it's worth looking what the accusation was, directly from the his accuser, Leeann Tweeden:
When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’. I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.
On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’
He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.
We are talking about events in 2006. We are talking about a man who had been married for 31 years and was 55 years old at the time. Back to Tweeden:
He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.
I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.
I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.
I felt disgusted and violated.
Not long after, I performed the skit as written, carefully turning my head so he couldn’t kiss me on the lips.
55 years old, remember. Franken wasn't done:
Other than our dialogue on stage, I never had a voluntary conversation with Al Franken again. I avoided him as much as possible and made sure I was never alone with him again for the rest of the tour.
Franken repaid me with petty insults, including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops.
But he didn’t stop there.
The tour wrapped and on Christmas Eve we began the 36-hour trip home to L.A. After 2 weeks of grueling travel and performing I was exhausted. When our C-17 cargo plane took off from Afghanistan I immediately fell asleep, even though I was still wearing my flak vest and Kevlar helmet.
It wasn’t until I was back in the US and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one:
Tweeden's reaction? Well, what do you think?
I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep.
I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.
How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?
It's not funny. In the least. But what do you expect from a guy who would say something like this in a major publication?
In the New York Magazine article, dated March 13, 1995, entitled "Comedy Isn't Funny: Saturday Night Live At Twenty--How The Show That Transformed TV Became A Grim Joke" Franken veers off of a discussion of a skit involving Andy Rooney, and proposes a skit involving the drugging and rape of Lesley Stahl.
Franken: And, "I give the pills to Lesley Stahl. Then, when Lesley's passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her." Or, "That's why you never see Lesley until February." Or, "When she passes out, I put her in various positions and take pictures of her."
The punchline became reality, I guess. You'll notice that the source of this anecdote is City Pages, from back in 2008. It's worth remembering, my fellow Minnesotans saw fit to elect this guy in 2008, and once again in 2014. Yes, the 2008 election was probably stolen, but we don't get to unring that bell, and Franken won a second term comfortably in 2014, when he ran against a painted sheet metal office credenza. I don't think that's exactly who he defeated, but it's been a number of years. It wasn't close, though.
So what do we make of it? My preliminary thoughts:
- Even before I heard of this incident, or read the City Pages piece back in '08, I was pretty sure Franken was a creep. He's always had that vibe. As we entered this time of tumbrels, if I'd had to predict which senators were most likely to be sexual miscreants, Franken would have been in my top 5 choices.
- The continuing saga of Roy Moore complicates Franken's career prospects. If the Democrats needed Franken, they'd have circled the wagons around him by now. They don't need him, though. If Franken were to leave tomorrow, Mark Dayton would have a replacement ready, most likely Lt. Governor Tina "Madame Abbatoir" Flint Smith, who was an executive with Planned Parenthood before she went into the retail side of politics. She would easily have use of the hagiography brigade that has served Amy Klobuchar so well over the years.
- The reason Moore matters is simple -- for the Democrats to claim any moral high ground, they need to appear tougher on their reprobates and more full-throated in their denunciations than the professional Republicans have been with Moore. It's more difficult to tut-tut Moore if you're simultaneously protecting Franken. Once Franken gave the Democrats the 60th vote for Obamacare, he's always been living on borrowed time. The moment you are no longer valuable to Chuck Schumer et al., you get this action:
- But wait -- doesn't Franken have value to the DFL? Not as much as you'd think. He ran well behind Barack Obama in '08 and he did nothing to lift the overall ticket in 2014, as Dayton and everyone else in the DFL won their races comfortably. And while it hasn't been fashionable for the DFL rank-and-file to bash Franken, there are more than a few people in the party who view him as something less than a team player. Some of the Metrocrats are hyenas, too.
- If I were to bet, I'd say Franken only survives if no one else comes forward. But if I were to bet, someone else will come forward. Franken was a reprobate long before he became a politician and if there's value in dropping on a dime on him now, and there's every reason to imagine there is value, we'll have more accusers. Some may even have pictures.