Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Monday faced new allegations of inappropriately touching women, but there are no signs he plans to step down amid the swirl of controversy now surrounding him.
The latest accusation surfaced when Lindsay Menz, 33, of Frisco, Tex., told CNN that Franken, 66, grabbed her when they posed for a photo at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair. Franken, a second-term senator, already faces a Senate ethics investigation into allegations that he inappropriately touched a fellow performer on a USO tour in 2006.
He is the first sitting lawmaker to face accusations by women of inappropriate behavior in the wake of an ongoing wave of allegations against powerful men across American society.
Menz said she attended the fair with her husband and father and met the senator at a local radio booth sponsored by her father’s business. As her husband held up a phone to take the photo, 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 told CNN. “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 told the news channel. “I was like, oh my God, what’s happening.”
In a statement to CNN, Franken did not deny that the incident took place.
“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,” Franken said in a statement to CNN.
Franken’s office did not return a separate request for comment. Over the weekend, an aide told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Franken planned to spend the Thanksgiving holiday week with his family in Washington, “and he’s doing a lot of reflecting.”
Multiple senior Democrats on Monday said Franken is not expected to resign over the latest allegations, nor is he expected to face calls for his ouster from Democratic congressional colleagues. These Democrats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the matter, said they see no reason for Franken to step down as long as he agrees to participate in an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Last week, Republicans and Democrats quickly denounced Franken after Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio news anchor and former model, accused the senator of forcibly kissing her and later grabbing her breasts while she slept on the flight home during an overseas USO tour in 2006. She offered photographic evidence of the latter accusation.
In response, Franken apologized and agreed to face an ethics investigation. He also contacted Tweeden, apologized and asked to meet with her. She said on a national television program that she would do so.
Franken usually stays at his daughter’s Tenleytown home when in Washington. On Monday afternoon, network television pool cameras were trained on the front and back doors.
Producers and photographers who have been assigned to monitor the house since Friday said that they have seen people believed to be staffers come and go, in one case to pick up food, but that they have not seen the senator.
The senator’s daughter, Thomasin, answered the door to the house on Monday afternoon with a baby and dog. She declined to tell a Post reporter whether her father was home.
“I’m not going to answer any questions today,” she said, before ordering the black dog back inside and shutting the door.
The growing accusations against Franken come as Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, faces calls to drop out of a special election amid accusations first reported by The Washington Post that he pursued or assaulted underage girls in the 1970s and 1980s.
While senior congressional Republicans have called on Moore to exit the race, he has so far refused to do so.
With the increased focus on sexual harassment in Congress, female lawmakers are also growing more forceful in talking about their experiences with male counterparts. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a 21-year veteran, on Monday became the first member to specifically accuse another lawmaker of inappropriate sexual behavior, saying that a California Democrat made an unwanted advance on her years ago.
“I was in an elevator, and then-Congressman Bob Filner tried to pin me to the door of the elevator and kiss me, and I pushed him away,” DeGette alleged on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily.”She recalled how years later Filner, who left Congress in 2012, won the mayor’s race in San Diego but had to resign amid charges of sexually harassing young city employees.
“Believe you me, I never got in an elevator with him again.”