Listening to the Women Means Conducting Investigations

In the days following Sen. Al Franken’s announcement that he would resign, I was a bit distraught with what was happening and the reaction I watched unfold. It took me a few days to pull my thoughts together, which I’ve now written about in “Zero Tolerance is Never the Answer” and “Why Democrats Shouldn’t Abandon the Moral High Ground.”

To someone focused solely on the question of whether or not Franken should have resigned, those might seem like conflicting views. But I wanted to take a step back from the particulars of his situation to establish a few ground rules for how we should (or shouldn’t) respond to allegations of sexual misconduct. With all of that said, I’d now like to return to the particulars.

The truth is that one of the reasons why I wasn’t prepared to join the bandwagon of calling for Franken’s resignation (even though I think that Democrats should maintain their moral high ground on this issue) is that his case is not clear. I still have lots of questions that are, as yet, unanswered. It’s not that I think he’s innocent. It’s that some of the allegations feel contradictory to the person described by those who know him well (i.e., bragging that he can be abusive because he is an entertainer), others feel overblown (squeezing a woman’s waist during a photo), while others seem concrete (photo of him joking about grabbing breasts).

That is why I tend to agree with a former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, who happens to be a Republican.

While I am not always in agreement with Senator Al Franken, I firmly believe in due process which is a cornerstone of our democratic way of living. Whenever in history we abandoned it, we severely damaged ourselves. Just think about the lynching of Blacks in the South, the internment of people of Japanese descent in World War II, or the era of McCarthyism when lives were destroyed based solely on allegations.

The simple fact is that Al Franken has been the Senate’s most effective challenge to Trump and his subordinates. The possibility of any rigging by Roger Stone and his associates should cause all of us to call for a rescinding of the Franken resignation and a prompt and thorough review of all allegations by the Senate Ethics Committee.

He was elected by we, the people, and he should continue to serve until a legal determination has been made.

I do not think that justice is served by following the airing of allegations with the immediate imposition of consequences. As Carlson points out, that approach has led this country to some pretty horrific actions.

But that doesn’t mean that the only other alternative is to discredit the women who have come forward. We need an investigation to put some of these questions to rest. In no other arena of our justice system is that portrayed as an attack on the victim. As a matter of fact, it is a sign that we take their allegations seriously. Those who came forward with stories about Franken deserve that—as does the senator.

Similarly, when it comes to the allegations against Donald Trump, Democrats should be calling for an investigation, not his resignation. That is exactly what the women who renewed their claims against him yesterday are asking for.

During the television appearance and a news conference, Holvey sat alongside Jessica Leeds, a New York woman who said Trump groped her on a plane, and Rachel Crooks, who said he kissed her on the lips at Trump Tower, to renew their allegations against the president.

The women also called for Congress to investigate these allegations amid the dramatic shift happening nationwide in response to charges of sexual misconduct against men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.

Of course with Trump, we also have the evidence of him bragging about committing sexual assault on tape, as well as the hours of him talking about his sexual exploits with Howard Stern. That simply means that the case against Trump is strong, whereas the one against Franken lacks much of anything by way of corroborating evidence.

A third example would be Rep. Trent Franks, who appeared to resign immediately over very strange allegations as a way to shut the whole thing down. Absent suits filed by the victims or criminal charges, that is certainly an alternative for men in this situation.

Roy Moore presents a very different kind of challenge. Someone with a sense of shame would have dropped out of the Senate race by now. Similarly, if a party and its voters weren’t blinded by ideological tribalism, there might have been an attempt to remove him from the ticket. But absent any of that, it will be up to the voters to decide today. If he wins, Democrats should demand an immediate investigation.

This is the kind of process we should support for allegations of sexual misconduct. Once it is completed, assigning consequences that recognize various levels of infractions is the appropriate alternative to a zero tolerance policy.

I recognize that we’re talking about implementing something like this within a system that is highly politicized, so there are more than a few ways it could go awry. But if Democrats want to claim the moral high ground on cases of sexual misconduct…there it is.

UPDATE: I should have added that Arne Carlson was a Republican while he was Governor of Minnesota. After his term ended, he was kicked out by the state party for not being extremist enough.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .