Second Woman Says Al Franken Groped Her In 2010
Drip, Drip, Drip?
Minnesota Senator Al Franken is being accused of inappropriate contact by a second woman, this time in an incident that occurred after he had been elected to the Senate:
WASHINGTON — A second woman says Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, touched her inappropriately, telling CNN that he grabbed her rear end while her husband took a photo of the two of them at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.
Mr. Franken has been caught up in controversy over allegations by Leeann Tweeden, a radio news anchor in California, that he forcibly kissed her while he was working as a comedian in 2006. Mr. Franken has issued an apology and has supported calls from both Democrats and Republicans for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate.
The new accusation, made by Lindsay Menz, 33, of Frisco, Texas, is the first to involve Mr. Franken’s time as a senator. CNN reported Monday morning that Ms. Renz reached out to the network after Ms. Tweeden went public last week, saying that she wanted to share an “uncomfortable” interaction that left her feeling “gross.”
She told CNN that she attended the Minnesota State Fair with her husband and father in the summer of 2010. Her father’s business was sponsoring a local radio booth, she said, and she spent the day meeting various elected officials and political candidates, including Mr. Franken, who was elected in 2008.
When Mr. Franken walked into the booth, she said, they had a brief exchange and her husband held up her phone to take a picture of the two of them.
The network quoted her as saying that Mr. Franken “pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear,” adding, “it was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.”
Mr. Franken issued a statement to CNN, saying, “I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t’ remember taking this picture. I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”
A woman says Sen. Al Franken inappropriately touched her in 2010, telling CNN that he grabbed her buttocks while taking a photo at the Minnesota State Fair.
It is the first allegation of improper touching by Franken, who is a Democrat, while he was in office. It comes just days after Leeann Tweeden, a local radio news anchor in California, said that Franken forcibly kissed and groped her in 2006, when Franken was a comedian.
Franken has since issued an apology to Tweeden and faces a potential investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Lindsay Menz, a 33-year-old woman who now lives in Frisco, Texas, reached out to CNN on Thursday hours after Tweeden made her story public. Menz said she wanted to share an “uncomfortable” interaction that left her feeling “gross.”
According to Menz, she attended the Minnesota State Fair with her husband and father in the summer of 2010, almost two years after Franken was elected to the Senate. Her father’s small business was sponsoring a local radio booth, and she spent the day meeting various elected officials, political candidates and celebrities and taking photos with them as they stopped by the booth.
When Franken walked in, Menz and her husband, who also spoke with CNN, said they recognized him right away. Menz said she had a brief and cordial exchange with the senator.
Then, as her husband held up her phone and got ready to snap a photo of the two of them, Franken “pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear,” Menz said. “It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.”
“It wasn’t around my waist. It wasn’t around my hip or side. It was definitely on my butt,” she said, recalling that the brazen act lasted three or four seconds. “I was like, oh my God, what’s happening.”
“He reached around her and kind of pulled her into him,” said her husband Jeremy Menz, who didn’t see what happened behind his wife. “He pulled her in and pushed his head against her head. It was over pretty quick.”
Lindsay Menz told CNN that she walked away as soon as the photo was taken, without saying anything to the then-first term senator. When she reconnected with her husband moments later, she told him: “He totally grabbed my butt.” Jeremy Menz described that conversation the same way to CNN.
In a statement to CNN Sunday, Franken said he did not remember taking the photo with Menz and that he felt “badly” that she felt disrespected.
“I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture,” Franken said. “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”
“I felt gross. It’d be like being walking through the mall and some random person grabbing your butt,” Lindsay Menz said. “You just feel gross. Like ew, I want to wash that off of me.”
“I was upset. I wasn’t happy about it in the least,” Jeremy Menz said. “He was already gone and I wasn’t going to confront him. But yeah — I was in shock, really.”
Menz’s father, Mark Brown, was also in the radio booth that day but didn’t witness the moment. But he told CNN that his daughter told him about the incident right away.
Menz’s mother, Jodi Brown, also told CNN that she discussed the incident with her daughter immediately after it happened. She said she distinctly recalls her son-in-law saying to her: “Our senator just groped my wife right in front of me.”
In the photo of Menz and Franken, the side of the senator’s face is pressed up against Menz’s but the lower halves of their bodies are not shown. Both of them are smiling.
Menz posted the photo with Franken on Facebook at the time, on August 27, 2010. Her sister, Cari Thunker, commented under the photo: “Sorry, but you two aren’t Bibles (sic) width apart” — a reference, Thunker explained to CNN, to how physically close Menz and Franken were in the photo.
Menz responded to her sister on Facebook: “Dude — Al Franken TOTALLY molested me! Creeper!” (The exchange is visible to Menz’s Facebook friends.)
Minnesota statutes state that “intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks” is not considered criminal sexual conduct.
Menz told CNN that what happened immediately after she took the photo with Franken that summer day in 2010 has also stayed with her. Standing nearby was another politician — then-Minnesota Rep. John Kline.
As she was getting ready to take a picture with Kline, Menz said the congressman asked her whether they should “mutually put our arms around each other” — an interaction that struck her as being in stark contrast with what she had experienced moments ago with Franken.
Reached on the phone on Friday, Kline, a Republican who retired from Congress this year, confirmed that he attended the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, as he did most years. Kline could not remember seeing the interaction between Menz and Franken. But when CNN described Menz’s recollection of her interaction with Kline before they took a photo together, he told CNN: “As a matter of practice, I did that all the time.”
When Menz saw the news of Tweeden’s allegations against Franken on Thursday, she immediately discussed her own run-in with the senator from 2010 with her family. She also posted about it on Twitter and Facebook.
A friend encouraged Menz to contact a CNN reporter after seeing the network’s coverage of sexual harassment in recent days. Menz was emphatic that she “absolutely” would not have decided to share her story had Tweeden not done the same.
“I don’t want to paint my story in the same light as hers,” Menz said, saying she believes what happened to Tweeden is much worse.
Still, she said, “the reason I want to say something is if someone sees that I said something, maybe it would give them the courage to say something too.”
Amber Phillips at The Washington Post argues that these latest allegations put Franken in a difficult position:
1. This second allegation raises questions of whether this is a pattern of behavior for Franken: It’s possible that Franken could have successfully navigated the Tweeden allegations with his political career intact. He said he didn’t remember the kiss backstage on a USO tour the way she did, and he said he was joking when he grabbed her breasts for a photo. At the time, he was a comedian. A tasteless joke, but a joke. He eventually apologized, and Tweeden accepted it.
These Menz allegations get a lot harder for Franken to navigate that way. He wasn’t on a USO tour acting up to cheer up the troops. He was meeting his constituents at a Minnesota State Fair. And if he did indeed grab a woman’s buttocks whom he didn’t know on one of the most routine events for a politician to attend, how many times did it happen?
2. Menz alleges this happened while Franken was a sitting U.S. senator: Franken got elected two years after Tweeden says he forcibly kissed and groped her.
Franken had been elected a senator for two years when Menz said he grabbed her butt for a photo.
That’s a huge difference, both in terms of perception and punishment. Up until now, most of the allegations of sexual misconduct levied against politicians in this post-Weinstein era have been brought up from their past, not when they were sitting members of Congress.
The Senate has the right to kick out one of its own for any reason it wants, but that hasn’t happened since the Civil War. The Senate Ethics Committee has hesitated to punish senators for misconduct that allegedly happened before they were elected to the Senate. It may be more inclined to get tough on Franken given this allegedly happened while he was in the Senate.
In addition to the above, Franken’s statement regarding the incident doesn’t really constitute a denial:
Franken statement to CNN: “I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture. I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.” https://t.co/AP0fBNs80o
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) November 20, 2017
Additionally, Franken’s past comments on how women who come forward with accusations of this type should be treated puts him in a bind:
Sexual harassment and violence are unacceptable. We all must do our part to listen, stand with, and support survivors.
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) October 23, 2017
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) October 23, 2017
As noted, Franken’s statement hardly constitutes a denial and mirrors the comments he made in the wake of Tweeden’s accusations last week when he simply said that he remembered the incident differently, but didn’t deny that the incident happened. Additionally, the fact that Menz immediately told her husband and others what happened, and posted about it on Facebook shortly after it happens lends credence to her version of events. Menz also said that she’s voted for Republicans and Democrats in the past including both President Trump and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and believes that she also voted for Franken when he ran for his seat in 2008. Given this, it seems likely that she’s telling the truth. Moreover, and potentially worse for Franken is the idea that what initially appeared to be an isolated incident with Tweeden may now turn into a torrent of accusations from other women, which will make it harder for him to deny the accusations. Finally, of course, there’s the fact that this incident happened after he had been elected to the Senate and appears to suggest that there may be other similar incidents in the past. Indeed, given Franken’s career before becoming a Senator it seems likely that there were other incidents like this and that this is part of a pattern of behavior that could become a problem for the Senator going forward.
What happens going forward is unclear. At the very least, it seems clear that there will be a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Franken’s behavior, especially now that we’ve got allegations of him engaging in this kind of behavior while serving in the Senate. There’s been some talk of Franken being forced to resign, something Franken has rejected even in light of this second accusation, but I’m honestly not sure that this is necessary or that it would be an appropriate punishment in this case. Paul Waldman, who is hardly a conservative, is among those who think Democrats should pressure Franken to resign:
In any case, Democrats can — and should — get off the fence and declare that it’s time for Al Franken to resign.
That’s unpleasant, I know. Franken was beloved among Democrats, someone who’s smart and actually understands policy, but is also witty and performs well on television. That combination doesn’t come along that often, which is why some people were hoping he’d run for president. And it was perfectly reasonable to withhold judgment on his future after the first allegation. Maybe it was just an isolated incident, or a big misunderstanding. But that’s no longer a position that can be sustained.
If Democrats call for Franken to resign, it would demonstrate that they’re willing to put their actions where their principles are, that they want to take this opportunity to begin really changing the culture of male supremacy that makes widespread sexual harassment possible. That requires that some high-profile examples be made, and politicians are the perfect examples, since their positions are always granted on a probationary basis.
Nobody wants anyone to be unfairly targeted or for mere accusation to be enough to cost someone their job. But to be perfectly frank, it’s more than okay for men to start feeling a little bit afraid. The whole reason so many millions of women are victimized in ways large and small is precisely because the men who do the victimizing don’t feel afraid.
[W]e need to make sure we don’t lose our ability to make moral distinctions between different kinds of sexual misconduct, and that whatever punishments we mete out are proportional and just. If the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are true, then he’s a monster who ought to spend the remainder of his days behind bars. A man who doles out the occasional unwanted kiss might deserve a vigorous public shaming, but still be allowed to have a career.
But we all know that if the cultural change we’re hoping for is actually to come about — so that women can go to work, meet a politician, or just walk down the street without feeling like a gazelle striding past a pride of lions — liberals need to take a stand. Giving up on someone like Al Franken that you used to admire may be a necessary part of the process.
Additionally, it could be hard for the Senate to go light on Franken at the same time that it’s already being suggested that Roy Moore would be expelled if he manages to win the December 12th Special Election in Alabama. Granted, the accusations against Franken are in no way similar to those against Moore, but if there is to be a zero-tolerance policy applied when it comes to questions of improper sexual context, then Franken could find himself in a precarious position. This is especially true given the fact that Franken is, in essence, entirely expendable since he is a Democrat representing a solidly Democratic state headed by a Democratic Governor who would be the one charged with appointing his successor to the Senate. And, of course, things could become even more precarious for the Senator if additional women come forward with additional allegations.