2020 Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand has faced consistent scrutiny over her role in calling for the resignation of former US Senator Al Franken after he was accused of sexual misconduct.
But Gillibrand said she has no regrets in a new interview with The New York Times’ podcast ‘The Daily’, which revisits the 2017 controversy surrounding Franken and renewed debate over whether he was treated unfairly.
Recounting her decision to call for Franken to resign, Gillibrand said: “With each allegation, as it grew, it created more and more concern in my mind.”
“I couldn’t defend him. I couldn’t carry his water, and my silence was doing exactly that,” she added. “So I got to the point where I wanted to say, very clearly, that I didn’t think it was acceptable and that I felt that he really needed to resign.”
Gillibrand was not alone in calling for Franken to resign after eight women accused him of inappropriate behavior that included forcible kissing and groping them without their consent. Several Senate Democrats followed suit, including other 2020 contenders such as Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren.
But Gillibrand’s move was widely viewed as what kicked off the calls for Franken’s resignation, earning her the scorn of some within the Democratic party’s donor class. The New York senator has often been asked to defend her decision while competing in the 2020 Democratic primaries, where she has struggled to break through and continues to poll in single digits.
A recent profile of Franken in the New Yorker revived the issue by looking back at the moment from the former senator’s point of view. In the long-form story, Franken poked holes in the account of his first and most prominent accuser, TV host Leeann Tweeden, and said he “absolutely” regretted his decision to resign from the Senate.
Gillibrand pushed back on the efforts to downplay the allegations, stating: “I think just picking apart one allegation is really harmful. I think it’s harmful to the larger moment that we’re in.”
She went on to say Franken was entitled to “any measure of investigation that he wanted” and that it was his ultimately his own decision to step down.
“What he’s not entitled to — and I want to be clearly on this — is my silence,” Gillibrand said. “He’s not entitled to the Democratic party being in his corner.”
Gillibrand, who has spent much of her career combating sexual assault, did suggest there was room for forgiveness “for anyone who wants it”:
It just is a matter of having the humility and grace to take responsibility, to know that you need to say you’re sorry and move on from there.”