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Franken talks about remorse, but not details of groping allegations, in Q&A

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., apologizes at a news conference Monday after several women accused him of unwanted touching. Melina Mara / Washington Post

U.S. Sen. Al Franken has spoken.

Amid the fallout from allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior, the Minneapolis Democrat on Monday, Nov. 27, gave brief one-on-one interviews to numerous Minnesota media outlets and faced the Washington, D.C., press corps live outside his office on Capitol Hill, where he returned to work after Thanksgiving recess.

In the face of repeated questions, he generally offered the same substance to his answers:

• He's sorry.

• Women's experiences should respected.

• He won't resign, but will work to attempt to regain Minnesotans' trust.

• Regarding the allegations by three women that he grabbed their rear ends while posing for photos in Minnesota in 2007, 2008 and 2010: He doesn't remember, and is at a loss to explain it. He said he would never do that intentionally.

• As for TV and radio host Leeann Tweeden's allegation that he forcibly kissed her while rehearsing for a USO skit in 2008, he says what he's said all along: He remembers it differently. He refused to elaborate, beyond saying that he remembered it as a normal rehearsal.

• As for the photo of him grasping at Tweeden's clothed breasts, he said it was inexcusable. He said his intent was irrelevant, and refused to say what was in his mind at the time.

He gave a 10-minute phone interview to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Here's what this reporter asked, and how he responded.

Q: You've repeatedly apologized for these incidents and said your intentions don't matter, that the women's experiences matter. And that's important and I don't want to diminish that, but I do want to go a little bit past that. Your intentions do matter, and context matters. And I think a lot of us are trying to understand this.

You said you spent a lot of time over the past several days "reflecting." But what you've really done is apologize for things that, aside from the Leeann Tweeden photo, you haven't actually admitted doing. What have you been reflecting about?

A: Well, I've been reflecting about a lot of things, but mainly, I want to contribute to the discussion of these issues in a positive way. And what I meant about, you know, the intentions, is that I think that we have to listen to women and honor their experience. In terms of those pictures, I take thousands of pictures, and I do not remember taking these photos. I take thousands of pictures, I mean tens of thousands of Minnesotans, and I'm a warm person. I hug people. Over the last few days, I understand that I've crossed a line for some women—and any number is too many. I understand that they feel disrespected or they feel these are inappropriate, and I have thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and I just recognize that I just have to be much, much more careful and sensitive in these situations. I feel terrible that women have felt bad coming (away) from these situations, and it's never going to happen again.

I just want to say that I know I have a lot of trust to regain from the people of Minnesota, and I'm committed to regaining their trust, to doing my work. I know it's going to take time. Some of the people I've let down are people who have looked to me to be a champion for women, and that has been an important part of my work in the Senate. And I'm going to continue that work. That's not going to change. I am committed to doing my job and to regaining the trust of the people of Minnesota.

Q: You said it's never going to happen again. Are you saying that you're aware the you've probably intentionally squeezed women's butts while posing for photos before?

A: No. No. That's never been my intention. That's not my intention. Again, what matters is what the woman experienced. That does matter, and I apologize if they felt uncomfortable, but that is not something that I intentionally would do.

Q: So you're really saying these are examples of a misplaced hand in an affectionate pose for a picture?

A: I don't know exactly what it is. I know that some women have found my greetings or my hugs or embraces for a photo inappropriate and I respect their feelings about that, and I have to be more cognizant of that. And I have to be more careful, frankly, and more sensitive. And I intend to do that. I have thought about this, and it is never going to happen again.

Q: Let me throw out a theory out there. For years as an entertainer, you did all kinds of off-color schticks involving sex—and grabbing. You posed with Arianna Huffington, you grabbing her butt, and with Joy Behar, you grabbing her breast. (Both women said these were essentially consensual acts for the cameras.) You draw up a sketch where "Dr. Al Franken" makes a move at grabbing breasts during the USO tour. You mug for a picture where you're grabbing breasts—that's the Leeann Tweeden one. Here's a reasonable --

A: I just want to make sure that that—to say a couple of things about that picture. It's inexcusable. I apologize to Leeann for that. My intention in that picture doesn't matter. What matters is she had every right to feel violated by that picture. She accepted my apology, and I was very grateful for that. But I did not grab, you know, I did not, I'm not touching her in that picture.

Q: Fair enough, fair enough. But here's a reasonable conclusion, I think, that some people could make: Al Franken thinks that being grabby can be funny. But somewhere along the way he lost track and started grabbing the butts of strangers in photos. Is that incorrect?

A: No. No. Yeah, that's not correct. I know the difference between comedy and public service. This is a serious business. Public service, being in the United States Senate, is a serious job. Doesn't mean you can't be funny sometimes, but it does mean that it's very different from comedy, and I have been a serious senator. I think Minnesotans have seen that. I think Minnesotans have seen that by my work, and I'm going to continue to be a serious senator and work as hard as I can to regain people's trust.

Q: With regard to that photo, you said that the reason for it doesn't matter, but let's talk about that. Was that a riff on the schtick in the USO sketch where you play Dr. Al Franken giving the breast exam?

A: No, and I'm not going to go into this. It doesn't matter. What matters is that, I'm ashamed of that photo. It was an inappropriate photo, and I am so grateful to Leeann that she accepted my apology.

Q: As far as the kiss, you said that your recollection of the kiss was different than hers. What exactly is your recollection?

A: My recollection is that we were doing a rehearsal for a sketch that's in a USO show, that was in our show. This is a sketch I had done in previous years with other hosts. I remember (it) just as a rehearsal and that it was nothing, you know, I just remember it differently from her. And again this is something that, I am trying to be responsible in discussions about this subject, and so I am saying we have to listen to women's experiences, we have to respect them. I did say I have a different recollection than she does, but that I apologize. And I meant it, and she was gracious enough to accept it.

Q: I understand that, but do you understand why you keep --

A: I have to tell you that, go ahead and ask one more question, but I'm gonna have to go.

Q: Do you understand why we keep asking, "Well, what were your intentions, or what is your recollection, other than 'different'?" This really gets to the heart of us trying to understand this.

A: Yeah, I understand. My recollection is we were rehearsing for this staged kiss in this sketch and we were having a normal rehearsal, and I don't remember it the way she does.

Q: Do you think that there is an importance to --

A: I'm sorry but I really have to go.

ON THE WEB

To hear a recording of the interview, go to TwinCities.com

This report contains information from the Washington Post.

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