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Former Clinton Administration Staffer On Franken


Three weeks after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against him, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota is expected to resign today. That's according to reporting from Minnesota Public Radio. Although we should note, Franken's office says, even though he is going to make an announcement today, that he hasn't yet made a decision about his political future. Women have continued to step forward, though, saying Franken groped or forcibly kissed them, including two new accounts just yesterday. Also yesterday, Senate Democratic leadership and half of Franken's Democratic colleagues called for him to step down. We're going to bring in Kirsten Powers now. She was a senior staffer in the Clinton administration. She's now with CNN.

Kirsten, thanks for being with us.

KIRSTEN POWERS: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Since these stories broke, Senator Franken has refused to resign, even as more women kept coming forward accusing him of harassment. Why now? Why now is he making...

POWERS: Well...

MARTIN: ...This decision?

POWERS: As you said, we don't know what he's going to do. The expectation, certainly, among his colleagues is that he's going to resign. And I think what happened, based on the conversations I've had, at least with people who, you know, are close to the situation - have said that the women senators, in particular, have been very frustrated with him. But they like him a lot. They respect him a lot.

He is their colleague, and they were giving him the space to make the right decision and that they had basically decided that if one more accuser came forward, they were going to have to put the pressure on him. And we had two accusers come forward yesterday, including one who said that he forcibly kissed her. And so that was sort of the tipping point where they felt that they had to come out and ask for him to resign.

MARTIN: And then we did see just senator after senator, Democrat after Democrat, weighing in and saying, it's time; he has to leave. What do you think? Do you think Al Franken could have survived this if you didn't have Republicans still supporting Roy Moore in Alabama despite sexual assault allegations and President Trump, for that matter, who faces his own allegations of sexual harassment? Are Democrats trying to differentiate themselves in how they handle this issue?

POWERS: I actually don't think that that's what's happening. I know a lot of people have said that they're trying to cede the moral high ground. I think that, at least among the women senators, they believe the women. Kirsten Gillibrand had said that, and she's the one who sort of led the charge on this - that she believes what the women are saying. And they were legitimately frustrated with Franken. And Senator Gillibrand pointed out - and I completely agree with her - you can't have these gradations of, well, you didn't rape somebody or you're not Harvey Weinstein, so we stand by you.

If you are - if - the only reason to not ask him to resign is if you think they're absolutely not true. If you think they're true, there's no excuse for them. There is no excuse for grabbing a woman and trying to kiss her. There is no excuse for groping a woman. It's on the continuum of sexual harassment at a minimum, if not sexual assault of - you know, if you're grabbing somebody and trying to kiss them. So...

MARTIN: But it does...

POWERS: I don't understand this argument that's - that because he's not Harvey Weinstein, that people should just leave him alone.

MARTIN: Although it does play to the Democrats' advantage in upcoming elections to say, you know, we are different than the Republican Party. We have a zero tolerance on this issue.

POWERS: Well, it does - it plays to their advantage, yes, to a certain extent. But I don't think that that's necessarily the only reason people make decisions. And I just - I also think people aren't factoring in the fact that there's a cost for this, actually because Senator Franken is not Roy Moore. He's a very popular colleague of his senators. The establishment Republicans actually didn't like Roy Moore even before the accusations against him. The Democratic senators like Senator Franken and respect him and are friends with him, so it actually costs them something to call on him to resign.

MARTIN: Kirsten Powers, a former staffer in the Bill Clinton administration. She is now an analyst with CNN. Thanks for your time this morning.

POWERS: Thank you.