WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, back at the Capitol for the first time since groping accusations emerged nearly two weeks ago, gave no indication Monday that his political career was in peril, telling reporters that he would work to try to regain the trust of women, voters and his colleagues.
“I know there are no magic words that I can say to regain your trust,” Franken, D-Minn., said during a brief and contrite news conference outside his Senate office. “I know that it’s going to take time.”
Franken, 66, has been fighting for his political life in the face of accusations of improprieties from four women. Capitol Hill has been dominated in recent weeks by allegations of sexual impropriety and how to address them, but so far, Franken is the only senator under scrutiny.
His fellow senators have largely been unwilling to extend Franken lines of support, and on Sunday, one of them, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Franken ought to consider resigning.
But Franken has made clear that he intends to try to weather the accusations. After spending Thanksgiving out of sight with family — in Washington, rather than home in Minnesota — Franken began a carefully coordinated re-emergence over the weekend. He spoke with a handful of Minnesota news outlets, issuing apologies and pledging to learn from his actions. And on Monday, he said he hoped he could be a part of the ongoing dialogue.
“I’m going to try to learn from my mistakes,” he told reporters here. “In doing so, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. I want to be someone who adds something to this conversation.”
In mid-November, Leeann Tweeden, an actress and radio broadcaster, said Franken forcibly kissed and inappropriately touched her during a 2006 USO tour of the Middle East when he was a well-known comedian. She also released a photograph of Franken, grinning, with his hands placed over her chest. Three other women then accused him of grabbing their buttocks while posing for pictures between 2007 and 2010, before and after he was elected senator.
Franken said Monday that he remembered the kissing encounter with Tweeden “differently” than her first-person account, but brushed aside the distinction.
“I feel that you have to respect women’s experience,” he said. “I apologized to her, and I meant it.”
Of the other groping accusations, Franken said he simply did not remember the episodes, but he did not contest the women’s accounts.
“I take a lot of pictures in Minnesota. Thousands of pictures. Tens of thousands of people. So, those are instances that I do not remember,” he said. “From these stories, it’s been clear that there are some women — and one is too many — who feel that I have done something disrespectful or have hurt them.”
He said he would be “much more careful, much more sensitive” in such circumstances in the future.
Franken’s case has been referred to the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate. Committee policy prevents its members from commenting on potential or open cases, but Franken said Monday that if possible, he would be open to publicizing its findings.
Whatever the outcome, it is increasingly clear that Franken will emerge from the matter weakened as a messenger and a fundraiser. Powered by his comedy career and a best-selling book released this year, he had been one of the Democrats’ star prosecutors during hearings on Capitol Hill and a go-to voice for television and events around the country.
In the House, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan on Sunday stepped aside as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in response to accusations of sexual impropriety, and senators have been tensely waiting to see if other accusations might emerge against Franken.
He conceded Monday that he could not definitively rule that out.
“If you had asked me two weeks ago, would any woman come forward with an allegation like this, I would have said no,” he said. “So I cannot speculate.”
“This has been a shock and it’s been extremely humbling,” Franken added. “I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed.”