Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) defended her call for former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign in 2017 after sexual misconduct accusations, telling critics “who are angry because I stood up for women who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, that’s on them.”
Asked during an MSNBC town hall on Monday about persistent criticism she receives from progressives for pressuring Franken to quit, the 2020 presidential candidate acknowledged that “it was a very hard issue for so many Democrats because the truth is, we miss him and people loved him.”
But Gillibrand — who has made combating sexual misconduct a key issue during her Senate career — argued she had to take a stand against Franken and the “eight credible allegations against him of sexual harassment for groping.”
“I had a choice to make, whether to stay silent or not, whether to say it’s not OK with me, and I decided to say that,” she said.
When the Me Too movement erupted in 2017, forcing institutions — including Congress — to examine their handling of sexual misconduct, eight women came forward with allegations of unwanted kissing and groping by Franken, stretching back more than a decade.
As the allegations mounted that December, Gillibrand was the first Democratic senator to call for Franken to step down. Minutes later, she was joined by other Democratic women in the Senate, and eventually by dozens of male Democratic senators.
Gillibrand faced fury from progressives, who blamed her for taking down Franken’s career, as HuffPost reported last year. Some even pledged not to donate to her campaign should she run for president, attacking her as an “opportunist.”
Gillibrand said Monday that she had to set an example as “a mother of boys,” when even her teenage son Theo asked: “Mom, why are you so tough on Al Franken?”
As a mother, I had to be really clear: It is not OK for anyone to grope a woman anywhere on her body without her consent. It is not OK to forcibly to kiss a woman ever without her consent. It was not OK for Sen. Franken, and it was not OK for you, Theo, ever. So I needed to have clarity. And if there are a few Democratic powerful donors who are angry because I stood up for women who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, that’s on them.
Gillibrand also generated controversy among Democrats when she said in 2017 that former President Bill Clinton, who faced decades of sexual misconduct allegations, should have resigned in 1998 for his extramarital affair with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
She has called for President Donald Trump’s resignation, citing the “numerous” and “credible” sexual harassment and assault allegations against him.
Gillibrand on Monday also addressed a former female staffer’s claim that she resigned in protest of the senator’s handling of a sexual misconduct allegation against a male staffer. She said the alleged perpetrator’s behavior “did not rise to sexual harassment, but we did find evidence of derogatory comments,” and he was punished.
“The woman who came forward, she was believed. Her allegations were taken seriously. They were fully investigated thoroughly and immediately,” Gillibrand said.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.