Analysis: Why Sen. Al Franken could be in a lot more trouble now
Is Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., a serial groper?
That's the question inevitably raised now that a second woman is saying Franken grabbed her inappropriately, this time when he was taking a photo with her in 2010 at the Minnesota State Fair.
He "pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear," Lindsay Menz told CNN's MJ Lee, who broke the story Monday. "It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek."
Menz is the second woman in less than a week to go on the record that Franken touched her inappropriately. On Thursday, Los Angeles radio host Leann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her while overseas in 2006, then grabbing her breasts while she slept on the flight home. She offered photographic proof of the latter accusation.
In this post-Harvey Weinstein era, one allegation (and photo) of sexual misconduct was enough for most Senate Democrats to say the Senate Ethics Committee should investigate Franken, which could result in him being censured or even kicked out of the Senate. Franken himself eventually said he welcomed the ethics investigation.
But they didn't ask for him to resign. That could change with Menz's allegation. Here are a few reasons it is even more damning for Franken right now:
1. This second allegation raises questions of whether this is a pattern of behavior for Franken: It's possible that Franken could have successfully navigated the Tweeden allegations with his political career intact. He said he didn't remember the kiss backstage on a USO tour the way she did, and he said he was joking when he grabbed her breasts for a photo. At the time, he was a comedian. A tasteless joke, but a joke. He eventually apologized, and Tweeden accepted it.
These Menz allegations get a lot harder for Franken to navigate that way. He wasn't on a USO tour acting up to cheer up the troops. He was meeting his constituents at a Minnesota State Fair. And if he did indeed grab a woman's buttocks whom he didn't know on one of the most routine events for a politician to attend, how many times did it happen?
2. Menz alleges this happened while Franken was a sitting U.S. senator: Franken got elected two years after Tweeden says he forcibly kissed and groped her.
Franken had been elected a senator for two years when Menz said he grabbed her butt for a photo.
That's a huge difference, both in terms of perception and punishment. Up until now, most of the allegations of sexual misconduct levied against politicians in this post-Weinstein era have been brought up from their past, not when they were sitting members of Congress.
The Senate has the right to kick out one of its own for any reason it wants, but that hasn't happened since the Civil War. The Senate Ethics Committee has hesitated to punish senators for misconduct that allegedly happened before they were elected to the Senate. It may be more inclined to get tough on Franken given this allegedly happened while he was in the Senate.
3. Franken didn't deny it: He issued a non-denial denial to CNN's Lee:
"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."
In addition, Menz's husband, who was the one who took the picture, confirms his wife told him immediately after the picture that Franken grabbed her inappropriately. According to CNN's Lee, Menz also accused Franken on social media right after the incident of "TOTALLY molested me!"
4. Franken himself has said that accusers should get the benefit of the doubt.
"Sexual harassment and violence are unacceptable. We all must do our part to listen, stand with, and support survivors," he tweeted in October.
If we are to take Franken at his word then, Menz's allegations become a lot more credible.
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan