By ANDREW TAYLOR
WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, facing fresh allegations of sexual misconduct and vanishing support from fellow Democrats, appears on the brink of resigning from the Senate.
Franken’s office said he will make an announcement at 11:45 a.m. Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. His office tweeted Wednesday evening that he had not made “a final decision” on resigning.
But a majority of the Senate’s Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to quit after a woman emerged Wednesday morning saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009. That brought the number of women alleging misconduct by Franken to at least eight.
Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” faces a chorus of calls to step aside, and Democratic senators said they expected their liberal colleague to resign.
“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”
Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.
“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”
Though the writing appeared to be on the wall, Franken’s departure was not certain. A tweet posted Wednesday evening on Franken’s Twitter account said: “Senator Franken is talking with his family at this time and plans to make an announcement in D.C. tomorrow. Any reports of a final decision are inaccurate.”
Late in the day, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.
“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately,” Schumer said.
The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.
The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said that she ducked to avoid his lips and that Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”
But it was clear his position had become untenable.
Fellow Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke to Franken, wrote on Twitter, “I am confident he will make the right decision.”
The pressure only mounted Tuesday, when Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., faces pressure to resign as well over allegations reported by Buzzfeed that he repeatedly propositioned a former campaign worker.
While Franken apparently is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.
A national conversation about sexual harassment has intensified this fall after the heavily publicized case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of many acts of sexual misconduct, including rape, by actresses and other women. Just on Wednesday, Time magazine named as its person of the year the “silence breakers” — women who have come forward on sexual harassment.
Punishment has been swift for leaders in entertainment, media and sports while members of Congress have tried to survive the onslaught of allegations.
Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.
The allegations began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.
Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.
Franken has apologized for his behavior but has also disputed some of the allegations.
Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman in Washington and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.
FBI director counters Trump’s attacks on his agency
By SADIE GURMAN and ERIC TUCKER
WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday countered strident attacks on his agency by President Donald Trump, saying, “There is no finer institution than the FBI.”
Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee as Democrats and Republicans clashed over the significance of Trump’s attacks on the agency. In a storm of tweets last weekend, Trump called the nation’s top law enforcement agency a biased institution whose reputation is “in Tatters — worst in History!” and urged Wray to “clean house.”
Democrats pushed Wray to respond forcefully, while Republicans echoed Trump in suggesting they worry about political bias in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Like Trump, they seized on revelations that an FBI agent was removed from Mueller’s team because of anti-Trump texts.
“There is no shortage of opinions out there, but what I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe,” Wray said of the agency he has led for just four months. “The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women working as hard as they can to keep people they will never know safe from harm.”
Wray conceded that agents do make mistakes and said there are processes in place to hold them accountable.
His defense of the FBI came after the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he was concerned by reports about Peter Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent involved in the Clinton investigation, being removed from Mueller’s team last summer following the discovery of text messages seen as potentially anti-Trump.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation,” Goodlatte said. “Even the appearance of impropriety will devastate the FBI’s reputation.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, top Democrat on the House Judiciary panel, predicted Trump’s attacks on the FBI will only grow louder as Mueller continues investigating. “Your responsibility is not only to defend the bureau but to push back against the president when he is so clearly wrong, both on the facts and as a matter of principle,” Nadler told Wray.
Wray’s tenure as the new FBI chief would be difficult enough even without the intense scrutiny of the Russia investigation. Since he was sworn in on Aug. 2, the U.S. has experienced two of the deadliest shootings in its modern history and an attack seen as terrorism in Manhattan.
Trump’s weekend tweets created a fresh dilemma for Wray. With his bosses, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sessions’ deputy, Rod Rosenstein, staying publicly silent, it fell to Wray to defend the agency. But FBI directors traditionally have been low-key and stoic — with Wray’s predecessor, James Comey, a notable exception.
And Trump’s firing of Comey while he led the Russia probe shows what can happen to a director who antagonizes the president.
Wray repeatedly deflected questions about the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, saying the entire matter was under review by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Republicans repeatedly pressed him on reports that Strzok tweaked the language of the FBI’s finding from “grossly negligent” — the standard laid out in the relevant statute — to “extremely careless,” which was the language that Comey ultimately used in discussing the Clinton case with the public.
Report: 2 women claim Franken touched them inappropriately
MINNEAPOLIS — Two women are alleging that Minnesota Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken touched their buttocks during events for his first campaign for Senate.
The women spoke to Huffington Post on condition of anonymity. The women said the events occurred in Minneapolis in 2007 and 2008.
Franken said in a statement, “It’s difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events.”
Last week, Franken was accused of forcibly kissing a woman while rehearsing for a 2006 USO tour. Franken also was photographed with his hands over her breasts as she slept. A second woman came forward, alleging Franken grabbed her buttocks during a photo op at the Minnesota State Fair.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an ethics investigation of Franken, which Franken says he supports.
Barton to go mum over disclosed photo, citing probe
By CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Suggesting he’s a victim of revenge porn from a jilted lover, Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas says he plans to go silent about the release of a nude photo of him online because police are investigating the disclosure as a possible crime against him. Authorities have not confirmed an investigation.
The 68-year-old Barton, who joined the House in 1985, has acknowledged sharing intimate material with a lover and accused her of threatening to make it public when he ended the relationship. The unidentified woman told The Washington Post that she did not put it online and said the congressman sought to intimidate her by threatening to go to the authorities if she exposed his conduct.
The he said-she said dispute erupted in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations drawing in several other members of Congress as well as Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, who is accused of disrobing a 14-year-old girl. The consequences for Barton are not immediately apparent aside from his mortification: The relationship with the woman was evidently consensual.
The Post published details of a secretly recorded conversation between Barton and his lover from 2015 in which he threatened to “take all this crap to the Capitol Hill Police and have them launch an investigation” if she did not agree to keep “inappropriate photographs and video” that he had exchanged with her from becoming public. He said she had already shared material with other women with whom he had been involved.
In a statement after that report, Barton said the “Capitol Police reached out to me and offered to launch an investigation and I have accepted. Because of the pending investigation, we will have no further comment.” He said the woman’s comments on the tape could be evidence of a “potential crime against me.”
Capitol Police have not said whether they have begun an investigation. A message left by The Associated Press at Barton’s district office in Arlington, Texas, was not returned. The voicemail for his office in Washington was full.
Making explicit images available without the subject’s permission is a felony in the District of Columbia and a Class A misdemeanor in Texas under revenge porn laws passed several years ago. More than 30 other states have such a law; there is no corresponding federal law.
These laws have historically protected women whose boyfriends or spouses publish or publicize nude or embarrassing photos sent to them privately while they were in relationships. The jurisdiction responsible in this episode could depend on where the photos were taken or where they were put online.
In a portion of the recorded conversation, the woman asked Barton what he would tell police if he went to them.
His reply: “I would tell them that I had a three-year undercover relationship with you over the Internet that was heavily sexual and that I had met you twice while married and had sex with you on two different occasions and that I exchanged inappropriate photographs and videos with you that I wouldn’t like to be seen made public, that you still apparently had all of those and were in position to use them in a way that would negatively affect my career. That’s the truth.”
Barton is the longest-serving congressman in Texas and his seat has always been considered reliably safe for Republicans.
The photo of Barton appeared on an anonymous Twitter account. It was not immediately known who posted the photo or when it was taken.
Barton issued an initial statement saying that while separated from his second wife, prior to their divorce in 2015, he had sexual relationships “with other mature adult women.” Barton said each relationship was consensual and has since ended.
“I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down,” Barton said.
Barton, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, announced his re-election bid this month. His district includes several counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Barton was a consultant in the oil and gas industry before he was elected to Congress.
He is currently the vice chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. He was the committee’s chairman from 2004 to 2007.
Barton has also been the longtime manager of the GOP congressional baseball team. He was taking part in a team practice in June when a gunman opened fire, injuring another congressman and others.
Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.
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