Two more women have told HuffPost that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) touched their butts in separate incidents. These are the third and fourth such allegations against Franken in the past week. Leeann Tweeden, a radio host, wrote last week that Franken had kissed and groped her without her consent during a 2006 USO tour. On Monday, Lindsay Menz accused Franken of groping her at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.
The two additional women, who said they were not familiar with each others’ stories, both spoke on condition of anonymity. But their stories, which describe events during Franken’s first campaign for the Senate, are remarkably similar — and both women have been telling them privately for years.
In a statement to HuffPost, Franken said, “It’s difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events.”
The first woman, who spoke to HuffPost on condition of anonymity because she’s worried she’ll be harassed online for making the allegation, said Franken groped her when they posed for a photo after a June 25, 2007, event hosted by the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus in Minneapolis.
“My story is eerily similar to Lindsay Menz’s story,” the first woman said. “He grabbed my buttocks during a photo op.”
The second woman told HuffPost that Franken cupped her butt with his hand at a 2008 Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis, then suggested the two visit the bathroom together. She spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear that the allegation could affect her position at work.
“My immediate reaction was disgust,” the second woman said. “But my secondary reaction was disappointment. I was excited to be there and to meet him. And so to have that happen really deflated me. It felt like: ‘Is this really the person who is going to be in a position of power to represent our community?’”
“I can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom,” Franken told HuffPost.
‘We Stood Next To Each Other ... And Down His Hand Went’
The first woman, a 38-year-old book editor who was living in Minneapolis at the time, told HuffPost that she had just finished performing with a feminist choir at the Women’s Political Caucus event, which Franken and his wife, Franni Bryson, attended. After the ceremony, she and other members of the choir approached him for photos.
“My mother loves Al Franken. She listened to Air America [on which Franken had a radio show] every day,” the first woman said. ”I saw him and asked if we could take a photo together for my mother, and we stood next to each other ... and down his hand went.”
HuffPost spoke to two sources close to the first woman who corroborated her account.
One fellow choir member, Sarah, remembers not only being there for the groping incident but hearing another choir member say that Franken wouldn’t stop looking at her chest.
Ten years ago, it was easier to shrug off predatory behavior as “boys being boys,” Sarah said, especially when that predatory behavior came from a political ally.
“At the time ... people weren’t as willing to speak against people they felt like were on their side,” Sarah said. “It’s really disappointing. And it’s crappy. Ten years ago we were also at an age where there was still a feeling of powerlessness, or that boys will be boys.”
People are saying that this is a right-wing conspiracy. It’s not. I’m a liberal person. ... I voted for him after this happened.
The first woman’s best friend, who likewise wished to remain anonymous, remembers hearing about the groping incident the day after it happened.
“She was in this all-women’s choir and he was at an event where she performed, and she told me that he basically grabbed her ass,” the best friend said. “It was a ‘Can you believe this happened to me?’ kind of thing.”
The first woman wanted to tell her story because Franken is “a serial groper,” she said.
“Only two people have come forward, and people are saying that this is a right-wing conspiracy,” she said. “It’s not. I’m a liberal person. ... I voted for him after this happened.”
‘I Was Completely Mortified’
The second woman, who said she was groped at a fundraiser, told HuffPost it took place in the fall of 2008 at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. She was excited about attending the event and meeting someone she wanted to support.
“I had never attended anything like that,” she said.
She and her friends found Franken and introduced themselves to him.
“I shook his hand, and he put his arm around my waist and held it there,” the second woman said. “Then he moved it lower and cupped my butt.”
“I was completely mortified,” she added.
In order to escape the situation, the woman excused herself to go to the bathroom. At that point, she said, Franken leaned in and suggested that he accompany her. She grabbed her friend and fled to the bathroom without him.
The second woman told several people ― including one of the reporters for this story, Zachary Roth ― about the incident some years ago, but didn’t want it reported then. She said she didn’t tell anyone at the time of the incident because inappropriate behavior from men was not that unusual to her or her friends.
“Sexual harassment happens so often, you have to learn how to move on,” she said, describing her thinking at the time.
Several other factors also left her feeling powerless.
“I felt like I didn’t have a voice,” she said. “This man had all of the power, all of the authority. In addition, he is a white man and I am a woman of color. I was 21 years old. And I was afraid that he would use all of those privileges to discredit me, to make me feel even smaller than I already felt.”
Today, she said, she feels more confident, in part thanks to the flood of women who have come forward over the last month to share stories of sexual harassment by powerful men.
“I couldn’t see all these other women come forward and not walk the walk myself,” she said. “I wanted my report to be a way for other women to say, ‘Yes, that happened to me and I don’t have to be afraid.’”
Like the second woman, the first woman waited years before deciding to go public with her story.
She laughed off the incident at the time, she said, even telling other people about it as a sort of “party trick.” It wasn’t until recently, she said, that she felt safe talking about how uncomfortable she’d felt.
On Oct. 12, shortly after The New York Times and The New Yorker published bombshell reports about sexual assault claims against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein that drove the #MeToo social media campaign to new heights, the first woman posted on Facebook about her experience.
“Are we all sharing which famous man has groped us?” she wrote. “Mine’s Al Franken.”
“Men should be held to the same standards regardless of their politics,” she said. “He’s an imperfect messenger for a progressive platform. He can’t claim to be ‘for women’ and also grope them.”
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