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Senator Al Franken quits amid sexual misconduct allegations

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Minnesota Sen. Al Franken announced Thursday he will resign from Congress in the coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and the collapse of support from his Democratic colleagues, a swift political fall for a once-rising Democratic star.

“I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice,” Franken said in the otherwise-hushed Senate chamber.

Franken quit just a day after new allegations brought the number of women alleging misconduct by him to at least eight. On Wednesday, one woman said he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006, an accusation he vehemently denied. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009.

“I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution,” Franken declared Thursday.

Franken is the latest to fall in the national wave of sexual harassment allegations that have brought down powerful men in Hollywood, the media and state capitals across the nation. His announcement followed Tuesday’s resignation of Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House.

Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” had originally sought to weather the allegations, disputing many of the specifics but apologizing to his accusers publicly. He had promised he would cooperate with an ethics investigation and work to regain the trust of Minnesotans.

“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken said Thursday. “Others I remember quite differently.” Still, he said he could not both cooperate with an investigation and fully carry out his duties to his constituents.

Franken, 66, had gained respect as a serious lawmaker in recent years and had even been mentioned in talk about the 2020 presidential race.

Franken pointedly noted that he was being forced out while President Donald Trump — who has been accused of worse offenses and bragged on a leaked “Access Hollywood” videotape of grabbing women by their genitalia — emerged unscathed. Trump has also endorsed Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s.

“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.

His resignation means Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, will name a temporary replacement. The winner of a special election in November 2018 would serve through the end of Franken’s term in January 2021. Among the possibilities is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a trusted Dayton ally.

Dayton said after Franken’s remarks that he hasn’t yet decided on an appointment to fill the seat but expects to announce his decision in the next couple of days.

In a Senate chamber with a heavy atmosphere, several Democratic women, including some who had called for Franken’s resignation, sat somberly for Franken’s 11-minute speech and embraced him afterward. But they had lost patience with the growing tally of allegations and paved the path for Franken’s exit.

“Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York declared on Wednesday. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.” A torrent of Democrats quickly followed Gillibrand.

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”

Franken has acknowledged and apologized for some inappropriate behavior, but he strongly denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.

The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that she ducked to avoid his lips but Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”

Franken said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”

The allegations against Franken began Nov. 16 when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.

Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.

A special election for Franken’s seat in 2018 would seem to favor Democrats. The party nationally is banking on favorable winds since midterm elections are often difficult for the party that holds the White House, and Minnesota Republicans have struggled in recent years to recruit top-tier candidates for statewide office.

Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by just 1.5 points in Democratic-leaning Minnesota, preserving a four-decade run for the party in presidential elections.

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Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala D. Harris as his running mate

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Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has chosen Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, elevating a former presidential candidate whose most electric campaign performance came when she criticized his record on school integration during a debate.

Harris will be the first Black woman and first Asian American to run for vice president, representing a historic choice at a moment when the country is grappling with its racial past and future. The announcement was made in a text and a tweet from Biden.

“Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau,” Biden tweeted, referring to his late son, then the attorney general of Delaware. “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

Harris, 55, is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. The first-term senator previously served as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.

Her prosecutorial record has drawn attacks from party liberals, who have criticized her past stances as too harsh and contend that her record does not meet a moment when police misconduct has rocketed into the national conversation.

But Harris also has built a reputation in Washington as a sharp questioner in Senate hearings, particularly of Trump administration nominees. She has been a forceful advocate for Black families during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and she helped draft a bill ending qualified immunity for police.

Harris kicked off her presidential campaign little more than two years after joining the Senate, with an electrifying Oakland, Calif., rally that drew more than 22,000 supporters. But she struggled to define herself to voters, shifting from one message to the next. She failed to take off in the polls and dropped out in early December, citing financial problems.

Harris and Biden have known each other for several years, and Harris worked closely with Biden’s late son, Beau, when both served as attorneys general.

That made it all the more shocking to Biden and his team when, at the first Democratic primary debate, Harris went after Biden for his nostalgic talk about working with two segregationist senators.

“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said during the debate. She also took Biden to task for his opposition to mandatory busing.

On the debate stage, she described a little girl who had benefited from her city’s busing program. “And that little girl was me,” she said. Within hours, her campaign was selling shirts emblazoned with the words and a childhood picture of Harris.

Biden’s wife, Jill, has described that moment as being “like a punch to the gut.” But since then, the two have publicly made up, with Harris acting as a surrogate for Biden and appearing with him and his wife in campaign events.

In a June appearance on the “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Harris jokingly defended her performance, saying: “It was a debate! The whole reason — literally, it was a debate. It was called a debate.”

“I’d be honored, if asked, and I’m honored to be a part of the conversation,” Harris told Colbert. “Honestly, let me just tell you something: I will do everything in my power, wherever I am, to help Joe Biden win.”

In late July, Biden was photographed with notes he had written to himself about Harris on his personal stationery. Included were: “talented,” “great help to campaign” and “do not hold grudges.”

Biden said on July 28 that he would name his running mate by the end of the first week of August, after extending his initial pledge to name the pick around Aug. 1. Aides then said it had slipped further. For weeks, advisers have been vetting the candidates in interviews and via extended searches into their backgrounds, records and personal experiences.

He had promised months ago to pick a woman, reflecting the dominance of female voters in the party and his effort to make a historic choice. Were he to win, the nominee would become the first female vice president.

The nominee also will come under heightened security because of Biden’s age; he will be 78 at the time of the next inauguration. Either he or his November opponent, President Trump, will be the oldest American president.

The selection process has been a mix of transparency and secrecy. While Biden has held his thoughts closely, with many allies saying he has been deliberately vague about his preferences, the parade of prospective candidates has played out publicly.

Several have broken with past practice and acknowledged an interest in the job; others, such as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), have taken themselves out of the mix in a similarly public way.

Biden has sought the same kind of “simpatico” relationship with his pick that he shared with former president Barack Obama, in which he served as the last adviser on big administration decisions. He also has put a high premium on loyalty, according to those familiar with the search.

But his choice was also affected by events coursing across the nation.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) once looked like a front-runner, but the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people put a spotlight on her record as a prosecutor, which has drawn criticism from Black activists. Klobuchar eventually removed herself from the running, saying that Biden should pick a woman of color for the ticket.

Biden also faced pressure to delay the pick until closer to the Democratic convention, which begins Aug. 17, to build a sense of momentum for an event that will largely be virtual, lacking the balloon-and-bunting atmosphere of the traditional convention celebrations.

In normal times, the two running mates would barnstorm around the country after the announcement, trying to lift the enthusiasm level of their own partisans and potentially attract new supporters. But Biden has held no large events since March, and has none planned.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee will formally be named at the national party convention, which will be largely virtual. The newly named nominee will debate Vice President Pence on Oct. 7 in Utah. The presidential debates — three are currently scheduled — will begin in September, barring any adjustments to the schedule. Two of them have already changed locations after the original host colleges determined it was unsafe to sponsor the event.

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U.S. Marines ID all 9 people killed in sea-tank sinking

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The U.S. Marine Corps has identified all nine people killed when a Marine landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off the Southern California coast.

Only one of their bodies was found, despite an intense days-long search involving helicopters and boats ranging from inflatables to a Navy destroyer.

Found at the scene was Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels Texas. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit announced on Sunday that the others, from California, Texas, Wisconsin and Oregon, are “presumed dead.”

They include: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.

“Literally every asset we have available” was mobilized in the search for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Friday.

They were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that was heading back to a Navy ship Thursday evening after a routine training exercise when it began taking on water about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from Navy-owned San Clemente Island, off San Diego.

Other assault vehicles quickly responded but couldn’t stop the 26-ton, tank-like vehicle from quickly sinking, Osterman said.

“The assumption is that it went completely to the bottom” several hundred feet below, Osterman said. That was too deep for divers, and Navy and Coast Guard were discussing ways to reach the sunken vehicle to get a view inside it, Osterman said.

Seven other Marines were rescued from the water; two were in stable condition at a hospital, authorities said.

All the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at nearby Camp Pendleton. They ranged in age from 19 to early 30s and all were wearing combat gear, including body armor, and flotation vests, Osterman said.

The vehicle, known as an AAV but nicknamed an “amtrac,” for “amphibious tractor” is used to take Marines and their gear from Navy ships to land.

The sunken craft, one of 13 involved in the exercise, was designed to be naturally buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches, Osterman said.

The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said Friday they did not know the age or other details of the one that sank.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined.

This is the third time in recent years that Camp Pendleton Marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises.

In 2017, 14 Marines and one Navy sailor were hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line, igniting a fire that engulfed the landing craft at Camp Pendleton.

In 2011, a Marine died when an amphibious assault vehicle in a training exercise sank offshore of the camp.

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Son of Federal Judge killed After Gunman Opened Fire at Her New Jersey Home

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The son of US District Court of New Jersey Judge Esther Salas has died after a gunman opened fire on her North Brunswick home Sunday.

Chief Judge Freda Wolfson said Sunday that Salas’ son Daniel Anderl, 20, was killed in the shooting and her husband, Mark Anderl, was injured. Salas was unharmed, Wolfson said.

Both the US Marshals and FBI are investigating the shooting. Initial reports from law enforcement said Daniel Anderl opened the door with his father right behind him. The door opened to a hail of gunfire and the gunman fled.

“We are looking for one subject,” the FBI said in a statement. “We are working closely with our state and local partners and will provide additional updates when available.”

Police respond to reports of a shooting at the home of federal Judge Esther Salas in North Brunswick, New Jersey, July 19, 2020.

A law enforcement official with direct knowledge said that the gunman appeared to be wearing a FedEx uniform.

It is not yet known whether the gunman was a FedEx employee or someone posing to be an employee.

“We are aware of the media reports and are fully cooperating with investigating authorities,” Jonathan Lyons, a spokesman for FedEx, said in an email statement.

Law enforcement has not been aware of any threats against the judge and right now investigators don’t know the motive.

Daniel Anderl, 20, was shot and killed at his New Brunswick home on Sunday evening.

“Judge Salas and her family are in our thoughts at this time as they cope with this senseless act,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “This tragedy is our latest reminder that gun violence remains a crisis in our country and that our work to make every community safer isn’t done.”

Democratic U.S Senator Bob Menendez, who said he was proud to have recommended Judge Salas to former President Barack Obama, also issued a statement sending his prayers to the family.

“My prayers are with Judge Salas and her family, and that those responsible for this horrendous act are swiftly apprehended and brought to justice,” Menendez said.

North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack spoke Sunday night that Judge Salas’ husband Mark Anderl is “one of the most straight-up honest attorneys” he has dealt with.

“He’s a very very exuberant, vibrant, one hundred percent pleasant person,” Womack said. “He loves to talk about his wife, and he loves to brag about his son, and how his son would excel in baseball, and how great he was doing in college in Washington … I’m just very sorry to see him going through this.”

The FBI urged anyone with relevant information to call FBI Newark at 973-792-3001.

This is a developing story: We’ll give updates on the situation as we learn more.

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