Monday, November 20, 2017

Al Franken: The Obvious Setup and Liberals Took the Bait

Last Thursday, Los Angeles conservative radio host and Fox News Sean Hannity guest regular Leeann Tweeden charged that Franken forced her to kiss him, mistreated her when she rebuffed him, and took a photo with his hands grabbing her breasts when she was asleep—all when they were both touring Iraq and Afghanistan with the USO, entertaining American military personnel, back in 2006.

Let me say right up front, I absolutely support women coming forward when there have been sexual assaults or abuse. There has been a history of demeaning women who step forward  in both the courtroom and life so that most refused to put themselves through the process and simply remained quiet. However, this situation is quite a bit different and it requires that we step back and view this with a lens of logic. The fact is that Franken doesn’t have a history of demeaning women, in fact it is the opposite.

Fourteen female staffers signed a statement saying Al Franken treated them with respect and was a champion for women: “Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he 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.”

I’m hearing some Democrats, trying to be proactive, suggest that Franken resign—since Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton can appoint a Democratic replacement—so he doesn’t distract from the debate over Roy Moore as well as Donald Trump, the predator in chief.

That’s a terrible idea. Franken has been an excellent senator; you can’t just trade him for a player to be named later. Franken has been a committed feminist, a brilliant Trump foil, and the rare Democrat with a sense for the dramatic and the entertaining. We shouldn’t disown him just because Republicans are trying to use him as a scapegoat to detract from their Roy Moore, Trump Russia investigation, and massive tax cut for the rich legislation problems.

At this point it’s one allegation, albeit an ugly one, from a conservative Republican operative, Leeann Tweeden. If more women step forward with similar stories about Franken, we can reexamine the question Franken's reputation. But, Democrats should not expect that Franken resigning will curry favor or fairness from the party that excuses Roy Moore, Donald Trump, David Vitter, and so many others.

All that said, however, have Democrats learned nothing from all the Republican negative messaging on Hillary and other Democrats they deem as a political threat? Franken can now probably forget about playing any part on the national ticket in 2020, and that's a gain for Republicans.

The facts do not exactly add up in this particular instance of Leeann's allegations about Franken. In fact, on closer examination, this seems more an instance where Republicans are playing Democrats to distract them from their own Roy Moore and Trump Russia ties problems.

First, there is Franken's history of support for rights, equality and women's issues to consider.

Also worth consideration are the many women who have worked with Franken over 40 years that have already stepped forward to say he has always been most respectful and a gentleman. This particular claim of overt sexual aggession by Franken, they say, is out of character for the man they know. Is it not right to wait to see if other women to come forward to corroborate Leeann's claim with their stories - before taking Franken out to lynch him.

On that photo of Franken pantomiming touching (not actually touching) Tweeden’s chest through a flack jacket. This attempt at humor - where no actual touching occurred - was disrespectful generally to women, but was this a resignation-worthy offense.  Is it worth taking Franken out to lynch?

On her accusation Franken forced her to kiss him, she recounted her 2006 United Service Organizations (USO) Christmas show tour with Franken. Tweeden said Franken used his old comedy background to write skits for the USO program. In one skit she agreed to perform, Leeann's character was to receive a kiss from Franken. Though Franken insisted they had to rehearse the skit, she claims she was reluctant to go along with the kiss rehearsal.

Leeann said, "He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth. I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time. I walked away."

In her accusation letter, Tweeden says: “Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault. You wrote that scene that would include you kissing me and then relentlessly badgered me into ‘rehearsing’ the kiss backstage when we were alone.”

It turns out, Franken did not write the sketch for Tweeden. He had been performing the bit on USO tours for years, with at least one other actress, in which he plays a character who has written a scene in order to kiss his co-host. Franken performed the sketch with Karri Turner in 2003, four years earlier. The following year, Franken published a piece for Mother Jones in which he includes the script for the sketch that he would perform with Tweeden two years later.

If Leeann was so repulsed by the rehearsal kiss, as she claims, why did she then perform the kissing skit on stage before an audience - as photos now reveal. Why didn't she then refuse the skit performance on stage, if she was so repulsed by what she claims she considers aggressive sexual behavior.

Franken's response was,  "I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann."  Franken also requested an ethics investigation into himself, which requires testimony under oath from those on the USO tour with Franken and Tweeden.  While Tweeden accepted Franken’s apology, she oddly states that she does not want the investigation Franken requested. This brings the question forward: if the accusation is indeed true, why would the accuser immediately reject an investigation?

USO tours shows are full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience. Since the days of Bob Hope, there have always been beautiful bombshell women showing up in scanty outfits and sexual dialogue running from innuendos to outright blatant views. If you are either a male or female performing in these shows you are expected to play along. I'm not defending it, but it is what is.

Following Leeann's press conference, many photos from the USO tour in question started appearing that show Leeann herself playing up the sexual innuendo and initiating the same behavior with audience members and other performers she claims was inappropriate from Franken.

A number of photos as well as videos have since appeared that show that Tweeden didn’t seem to have a problem with sexual performances on stage -- including that of her grabbing the butt of a Country and Western performer and rubbing her behind up against him and the singer grabbing at her butt. Another video of the tour shows Tweeden planting a big kiss on the mouth of comedian Robin Williams while she wrapped her leg around him. Yet other photos show Tweeden planting a big (seemingly nonconsensual) kiss on the mouth servicemen in audiences. And there are yet more similar photos.

Democrats believe it is wrong to question the prima facie case of sexual harassment made when a complainant steps forward to make her allegations. If the allegations appear to have all the elements of sexual misconduct, that in itself is proof of substantiation for many Democrats. But with that said, we must also take a hard look and recognize that this is not a black and white situation. Believing all accusers, no matter what, is just as bad as not believing them. There is no justice served if we do not consider that there may be some women that make accusations based on a personal agenda. Is it possible a Republican operative might be playing on Democrats' willingness to believe every allocation without question.

Leeann is a cohost on a conservative talk radio program, she golfs at Trump's resorts, and she is a semi-regular on Sean Hannity's program. The host of that conservative talk radio program also appears on Fox News. Leeann breaks her news about Franken the same day House Republicans pass their tax bill - was Leeann's timing a planned news distraction for the tax bill vote. Leeann's press conference was just a day after Franken's hard questioning of Jeff Sessions before his Senate committee - could Leeann's public revelation about Franken be conservative payback for him catching Sessions in so many lies.

If this was indeed a situation of a woman coming forward to in good conscience accuse an attacker, why did Roger Stone, know and tweet about it twelve hours before Tweeden’s announcement came out? As described in a Miami.cbslocal article: “Hours before allegations of sexual misconduct were publicly-leveled against Senator Al Franken, Roger Stone, a self-described master of the political dark arts, suggested he knew the attack on the Minnesota Democrat was about to be made. A Twitter account linked to the on-again, off-again Trump adviser posted a quote from Stone in the early hours Thursday morning that read: “Roger Stone says it’s Al Franken’s `time in the barrel’. Franken next in long list of Democrats to be accused of `grabby’ behavior.”

Then there's the fact that Tweeden voluntarily attended a USO dinner in 2009 to honor Franken for his work with the troops. If she was enraged as she claimed last week, it would have been much easier to decline the invitation rather than attend and "yuck it up" with Franken -- which she did.

Is it not right in this particular instance to consider if other right wing motivations are at play here - before taking Franken out to lynch?

If we are to demand fairness and equal treatment for ourselves then we must demand fairness and equal treatment for all - and that includes Al Franken.

The firestorm that got kicked up among Democrats about this was reminiscent of the ACORN stuff years ago: when charges of wrongdoing led to a instantaneous, unthinking, massive Democratic overreaction and throat-cutting, and the discrediting and defunding of a highly effective voter registration organization, all of it turning out, in the end, to have been much ado about very little, straight out of the Republicans' dark money dirty tricks machine.

When Democrats rush and jostle to prove how pure they are by destroying one of their own on command from a Republican dirty tricks squad, they achieve precisely nothing except one more dirty Republican victory.

Update - December 8, 2018

Eight women have alleged incidents when Sen. Al Franken groped or tried to kiss them.

The first woman to allege an unwanted kiss - during a long running USO skit rehearsal she agreed to - was a right wing talk radio program host who is an ardent advocate of Donald Trump and a frequent guest on Sean Hannity's Fox News program and who has an online photo album of her grabbing the ass and planting big unrequested kisses on men in her USO tours.

The second woman, who accused Franken of put his hand on her buttock cheek during a requested photo op, is an affiliate of the Texas Republican Party.

The third woman - anonymous - reported in the press that Franken put his hand on her buttock cheek during a requested photo op

The fourth woman - anonymous - reported in the press that Franken "cupped" her butt during a Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis in 2008 and suggested they visit the bathroom together. Franken flatly calls that anonymous "bathroom" claim a lie.

The fifth woman, a military police officer serving in Kuwait wearing military gear at the time, who requested a photo op with Franken during a USO tour, said 'when he put his arm around me, he "groped" my right breast.' Franken's hand was over her breast during a photo. Did he realize what part of her military gear his hand was touching?
The sixth women - anonymous - alleged in the press Franken planted a kiss on her cheek that was "too wet."
So that is six of the eight allegations.

The seventh accuser - anonymous - who is reported as a former Democratic congressional aide, spoke to Politico and shared how she says she ducked Franken kissing her as she tried to leave the Air America radio studio as, she claims, he told her he had a right to kiss her. Franken flatly calls that anonymous claim a lie. Is that anonymous former Democratic congressional aide now working for a centrist Democrat planning to run for President in 2020 who sees Franken as a progressive opponent in that race.

An eighth accuser - named - came forward on Dec. 6, writing in The Atlantic, Franken "put his hand on my waist" during a requested photo op at President Barack Obama's inauguration.

On those thin allegations Democratic Party leadership took Franken out and publicly lynched him.

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