Some former female staffers of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) spoke out on Friday in his defense, saying that he had treated women with respect while they worked in his office.
The statement came on the same day that Leeann Tweeden, the Los Angeles radio news anchor who accused Franken of kissing and groping her against her will, said that she had heard directly from the senator and is willing to meet with him to discuss the allegations.
The statement is co-signed by eight former Franken staffers who have worked for him since he was elected to the Senate in 2008. It reads, “Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”
The former staffers, a mix of communications and policy aides, sent the message to reporters on Friday. It does not explicitly say that they never heard about, experienced or witnessed any harassment or assault by Franken or others in his office.
But Alexandra Fetissoff, a former spokeswoman for the senator who gathered signatures for the statement, said in a followup email on Friday, “I can say with certainty to the best of our knowledge that those things did not happen.”
Another former Franken staffer, his former spokeswoman Jess McIntosh, signaled on Thursday that she would not be speaking about the allegations against Franken.
“I’m doing this one in private, because that’s what will keep me the sanest,” she tweeted.
Meanwhile, Tweeden made a round of national television appearances on Friday to discuss her allegations and to reiterate that she accepts Franken’s apologies.
Franken issued a brief apology for his behavior shortly after Tweeden published her allegations on Thursday. He followed up later with a lengthier statement expressing contrition.
“I thought the first one was really quick and sounded like a staffer did it. They responded to it, we reached out for comment. They probably got a lot of push back from that, which may have been why a second one was issued,” Tweeden said on “The View.”
“I’m not calling for his resignation, nor am I calling for his career to end. I just want to shine a light and stand on the shoulders of these other women to say, ‘This is not right, and this is not what should be happening in our society.’”
Tweeden also said that she had received a personal note from Franken before appearing on “The View,” asking if they could speak about the incident. She told the show’s panelists that she is willing to do so.
Reading the letter aloud, Tweeden said that Franken wrote, “I want to apologize to you personally. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, but that doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse and I understand why you could feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently, but what’s important is the impact it had on you and you felt violated by my actions and for that I apologize. I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO and I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry.”
A Franken spokesman did not immediately respond to inquiries to confirm that the senator has contacted Tweeden.
The senator faced swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping Tweeden, a KABC radio host and former Fox Sports correspondent and host.
Beloved by liberals for his fierce attacks on President Trump, Franken found few defenders as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and dozens of other colleagues called for the ethics committee to investigate his actions.
“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Schumer said in a statement.
Members of the ethics committee declined to comment.
The quick reaction to the accusations against Franken coincides with intense attention to charges that Alabama Republican Roy Moore made unwelcome sexual overtures to numerous women when they were teenagers. Moore has brushed off calls from GOP leaders to end his Senate campaign.
In an online essay published Thursday morning, Tweeden wrote that Franken had forced his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a skit and then groped her while she was sleeping during a flight home — a moment that was captured in a photograph.
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” she wrote. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.”