Richard Painter, former President George W. Bush’s chief ethics counsel and a recently declared Democratic candidate to fill former Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) Senate seat, refused on Monday to disavow months-old comments expressing skepticism about several women who accused Franken of unwanted sexual advances.
Painter said it wasn’t his job to “opine” on the accusations against Franken, repeatedly insisting that the Senate Ethics Committee should have carried out an investigation into Franken’s behavior. Though that committee did open an inquiry, Franken resigned before it concluded.
In an interview with Painter, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki pulled up a couple tweets of Painter’s from mid-December, both coming several days after an eighth Franken accuser came forward, and after Franken announced that he would resign.
Minnesota voters have a right to the facts about Al Franken. How much of this was for real and how much a set up job on Trumped up allegations. Why are there Roger Stone, FOX and other suspicious fingerprints all over it? Investigate now!
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) December 12, 2017
This was likely a Roger Stone / FOX set up job.
MInnesota voters are entitled to an investigation before a resignation. It’s called due process.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) December 18, 2017
“Do you believe Al Franken is guilty of unwanted advances, or do you believe this was a set-up job?” Kornacki asked after reading the tweets.
“I have no idea,” Painter responded. “I put a lot of those tweets out when I first heard about it. I continue to wonder why Roger Stone got a heads up on that before the Minnesota voters did. We are entitled to information. We are entitled to an investigation. We’re entitled to know what happened. When a senator is elected to a six-year term, he should be serving the six years unless we have an investigation that finds wrongdoing on the part of that senator. Voters are entitled to that, that’s a democracy.”
Kornacki pointed to the women who put their names on the record accusing Franken of unwanted sexual advances. “You say you do not know at all if any of this happened?”
Painter said he didn’t “know the facts.”
“There’s supposed to be an ethics investigation,” he continued, calling the conduct of which Franken was accused “unacceptable for a United States senator or anyone else.”
“But we should find out the facts, not just have a resignation,” he continued, later blaming Congress for “ignoring facts with respect to the Trump administration and everything else.”
The back-and-forth continued for several minutes, with Painter refusing to budge from his position that accusations of impropriety against sitting lawmakers should be met with investigations, rather than resignations.
At one point, he pivoted to a more general point: “Rather than just focus on the Al Franken accusations, we ought to focus on the thousands, tens of thousands of women who are subjected to this type of behavior in the workforce and the law is not adequately dealing with it.”
But Kornacki kept returning to Franken, with similar results.
“Isn’t it your job as a leader to make a judgment when eight women come forward to say, ‘Okay, I believe them?'” he asked toward the interview’s end.
“If I were on the Senate Ethics Committee it would be my job,” Painter responded. “That was their job.”
“It’s not my job to run around saying who I believe with respect to the accusations made against Al Franken,” he continued. “This election is not about Al Franken. If you want to turn it into that, or Donald Trump does, that’s exactly what the far right wants to do in this country.”
Watch part of the exchange below via MSNBC: