WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced Thursday he would resign "in the coming weeks” from the Senate after his support among Democrats crumbled, becoming the highest-profile casualty in the growing list of lawmakers felled by charges of sexual harassment or indiscretions.
“I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.
His references to both President Donald Trump, who had been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior including harassment and assault, and Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for an Alabama Senate seat who faces allegations that he molested teenagers, followed Franken’s steadfast denial that he himself had done anything wrong.
Franken said he had been ready to “cooperate fully” with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation but that he decided to leave office because it became clear he could not both pursue the investigation and represent the people of Minnesota. He maintained that he would have ultimately been cleared.
“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken said. “Others I remember very differently.”
He went on to say he felt confident he had represented the people of Minnesota well. “I know in my heart, nothing that I have done as a senator, nothing, has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree,” he said.
He also said he was “shocked” and “upset” by the harassment allegations and that in responding to the claims, he may have given people the “false impression” that he was admitting to any of the accusations. He added that he planned to continue to be a “champion” for women and would be active outside of the Senate.
“Even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it has all been worth it,” he said. “Politics, Paul Wellstone told us, is about the improvement of people’s lives. I know that the work I have been able to do has improved people’s lives. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
Nearly all of the Senate’s Democratic women — and most Democratic men, including the Senate’s top two Democrats — called for Franken to resign after a sixth woman came forward to charge that he had made an improper advance on her.
“Enough is enough,” declared Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
The accusations against Franken include an episode of forcible kissing on a USO tour before he was elected and several allegations that he groped women as he posed with them for photographs.
“This decision is not about me,” he said Thursday. “It is about the people of Minnesota.”
Over the last three weeks, Franken has repeatedly apologized for his behavior, although he has also challenged some of the accusations of impropriety lodged against him. Until Wednesday, he had said he would remain in his job and work with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of his case.
But his Democratic colleagues in the Senate made clear Wednesday that his apologies and admissions were not enough.
Still on Thursday, dozens of Franken’s Democratic colleagues, including many who just a day before made his political future in the Senate all but impossible, gathered on the Senate floor to watch his remarks, along with members of Franken’s staff and family. One by one, they rose to embrace him.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, the only Republican on the floor of the chamber, said, “He is my friend and he did the right thing.”
Moments after Franken’s remarks, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said she wanted to thank him “for doing the right thing.”
Leaving the Capitol shortly after, Franken said he would not be taking questions.
“I’ll be coming home,” he said when asked if he had a message for his home state.