The facts behind Kirsten Gillibrand’s comments on Al Franken and sexual misconduct

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks during a FOX News town hall, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Dubuque, Iowa (AP).
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks during a FOX News town hall, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Dubuque, Iowa (AP).

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the first senator to call for former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s resignation when sexual misconduct allegations were brought against him. Now she seems to be paying a price for it.

Gillibrand has struggled in her fundraising, and a few prominent Democrats have said they resented the role she played in Franken’s resignation in January 2018.

During a June 2 Fox News town hall, host Chris Wallace asked if she still thinks Franken needed to resign.

Gillibrand replied that it was ultimately Franken’s decision, and she expressed no regrets about speaking out.

"Senator Franken was accused credibly by eight women of groping and forceable kissing," she said. "All were corroborated in real time. Two of them were since he was a senator. And the last one that came to light was a congressional staffer."

This has become a regular answer Gillibrand gives when she is asked about Franken. We were interested in the specifics: Was the evidence against Franken as clear as she suggested at the town hall?

Gillibrand’s account of the claims against Franken aligns with what we know from press reports. Some of the accusers are anonymous, however, so we could not independently verify their claims. Because of the sensitivity of the accusations and the anonymity of these reports, we decided not to rate Gillibrand’s claim. But we did want to take a fresh look at what we do know a year and a half after Franken’s resignation. 

Franken’s office did not provide comments on the accusations for this story.

Women who were named

Gillibrand is correct that there are eight women who said Franken groped and attempted to kiss them without their consent. Four of these women went public and provided significant details.

Leeann Tweeden: People who followed Franken’s resignation probably remember the photo of Franken grinning and placing his hands over the breasts of a woman in uniform while she was sleeping. Her name is Leeann Tweeden, and she was the first to come forward with allegations against the former senator. On Nov. 16, 2017, she published her personal account of the incident on 790 KABC-AM radio’s website.

Tweeden said that Franken kissed her without her consent while on a December 2006 USO tour, after he pressed her to rehearse a sketch he wrote that called for them to kiss. She also provided a photo of Franken appearing to grab her breasts while she was sleeping. 

Franken said at the time that he didn’t recall the skit rehearsal "the same way" as Tweeden, but he apologized. He also said the photo "was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t" and he "shouldn’t have done it."

He issued a more detailed apology to the press Nov. 16.

Lindsay Menz: At the 2010 Minnesota State Fair, Menz said Franken groped her while her husband took a photo of the two of them. Menz quickly informed her husband, father and mother about the incident, and CNN confirmed their accounts.

Franken told CNN that he takes thousands of pictures with people and didn’t remember the photo. He added that he "(feels) badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected."

Stephanie Kemplin: Kemplin alleged Franken groped her while taking a picture with him. The picture was taken in December 2003, during another USO tour, and Kemplin provided the photo to CNN.

She said she shared her experience to her sister and an ex-boyfriend years before her allegations were made public. CNN verified that during interviews.

A spokesperson for Franken again said that he has taken thousands of photos with people before and added that he "never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct."

"He remains fully committed to cooperating with the ethics investigation," the spokesperson told CNN.

Tina Dupuy: Dupuy published a first-person essay detailing her allegations on Dec. 6, 2017. 

Dupuy said that Franken groped her while taking a picture with him at a party hosted by Media Matters after President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, and she provided the photo of the two and other photos of herself at the party.

When PolitiFact asked her if there were any developments to her story since publication, she said that the piece is "current and correct" and that the "only change is more women with Franken encounters" have since been in contact with her.

Franken never commented on Dupuy’s essay.

The anonymous accounts

Franken has either explicitly denied or does not recall incidents mentioned in allegations made by four anonymous women.

The Huffington Post published an article on the allegations of the first two anonymous accusers on Nov. 22, 2017. The two incidents both involved groping and occurred at Minneapolis events more than a year apart. 

The first woman alleged that Franken groped her while the two were taking a picture June 25, 2007; she shared the experience at the time with friends that Huffington Post was able to interview but didn’t name. 

Franken told the Huffington Post that he doesn’t recall the specific campaign events during which the incidents are alleged to have occurred. 

The second anonymous woman said that, in addition to groping her, Franken asked her to join him in the bathroom. At the time, Franken said he "can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom."

The third anonymous accuser was reported to be a former New England elected official. The website Jezebel reported that it independently confirmed that the woman appeared on a live taping of Franken’s former radio station in 2006. Jezebel also interviewed the woman’s sister, who had been told of the incident at the time. 

Jezebel reporter Anna Merlan told PolitiFact that she stands by the story of the anonymous elected official. She said Franken’s office told her they received her request to comment but never responded. 

Finally, Politico reported that a former congressional aide said Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after she left a taping of his radio show in 2006. Politico said her version of events was independently corroborated by two of the aide’s former colleagues.

Franken denied the claim, saying it was "categorically not true" and that he looked forward to cooperating with a Senate ethics investigation. 

The Ethics Committee never came to fruition

Alongside his detailed apology issued Nov. 16, 2017, Franked requested for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his conduct.

On Nov. 30, 2017, Deborah Sue Mayer, chief counsel and staff director of the Senate Ethics Committee, confirmed the investigation in the committee’s brief public statement.

The tipping point for Franken came on Dec. 6, 2017, the same day Politico published its article on the allegations of the former congressional aide and The Atlantic published Dupuy’s essay. A cascade of 35 Democratic senators called for Franken’s resignation. 

Gillibrand led the charge, writing a lengthy Facebook post entitled "Senator Franken Should Step Aside." 

"While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve," Gillibrand wrote.

Franken officially resigned on Jan. 2, 2018, a few weeks after indicating he would do so. The ethics investigation was never completed.