Former female staffers defend Franken

A news anchorwoman says the former comedian forcibly kissed her and groped her.

As Democratic and Republican senators alike condemn Al Franken for allegedly forcibly kissing and groping a woman during a USO tour in 2006 and call for an ethics committee investigation into his behavior, several women who have worked for the Minnesota Democrat are defending him. 

CBS News' Laura Strickler has spoken with several women who used to work for Franken, and so far, none have said they experienced or witnessed any inappropriate behavior by the senator when they worked for him. 

For several of the six women who spoke with Strickler, working in Franken's office was "the best experience of their lives." They described him as "always professional" and "honorable." They all also expressed appreciation that he had apologized, but none of the women had anything negative to say about their former boss. 

Franken's former chief of staff, Casey Aden-Wansbury, told CBS News that in the eight years she worked for him, four of those years as chief of staff, he always "worked hard to create a respectful environment for his staff." She added that "the inappropriate behavior reported [Thursday] does not live up to the values I know he holds," and she's glad he has apologized. Attesting to his character, Aden-Wansbury also said that in the two decades she has worked in government and politics, she has "never seen anyone take public service more seriously or care more deeply about his responsibility to the constituents and the country he serves."

Seven other women signed another statement saying that in the time that they were employed in Franken's Senate office in either Washington or Minnesota, "[H]e 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." Those who signed the letter are Katherine Blauvelt, Alexandra Fetissoff, Jessi Held, Natalie Volin Lehr, Karen Saxe, Charlotte Slaiman, and Bethany Snyder.

KABC radio anchor Leeann Tweeden wrote in a post Thursday that when she and Franken were on a USO tour entertaining troops, he had written a skit with a part for her in which his character would lean in and try to kiss her.  She said he insisted on rehearsing and during a rehearsal, he forcibly kissed her against her will, which left her feeling "disgusted and violated." Tweeden also posted a photo which shows him groping her chest while she was asleep on a flight back to the U.S. from Afghanistan. 

Initially, Franken said in a brief statement that he didn't remember the rehearsal in the same way, but he apologized. Shortly afterward, he issued a lengthier statement with a more expansive apology and expression of contrition, along with a call for an ethics investigation into his actions. He also wrote Tweeden a personal apology and asked to meet with her. 

The accusation of Franken landed as Senate Republicans have been struggling with what to do about a raft of accusations against U.S. Senate GOP candidate Judge Roy Moore, who is alleged by several women to have pursued them when they were teens and he was in his 30s. At the time of their interactions with Moore, most were in their teens -- the youngest was 14 years old, and she accused him of sexual contact, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Over a dozen GOP senators have called on Moore to step aside, which he has refused to do. The president has been notably silent on the question of Moore's fitness for office, but his judgment of Franken hit Twitter late Thursday night. 

He went on in another tweet to say, "And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?"

The mention of CBS News "60 Minutes"' Lesley Stahl is an allusion to a 1995 New York Magazine story about NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Comedians Norm McDonald and Franken were tossing around ideas for lines about a satire of "60 Minutes," and one line Franken proposed involved drugging and then raping Stahl.    

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment