Esme Cribb

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Esme

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), accused on Thursday of forcibly kissing and groping a woman on a USO tour in 2006 before he was in office, has made the prevention of sexual assault and violence against women one of his signature issues as a lawmaker.

Franken on Thursday said he “certainly” did not remember the incident “in the same way” as Leeann Tweeden, who accused Franken of kissing her over her protestations and later groping her in a photograph. Franken offered his “sincerest apologies.”

The senator’s curt statement stood in contrast to his previous extensive championing of legislation to support survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

In 2009, Franken introduced a provision to the next year’s defense appropriations bill that banned federal funding for “defense contractors who forced employees to mandatory binding arbitration in the case of rape, assault, wrongful imprisonment, harassment, and discrimination.”

In a statement at the time, Franken championed the amendment’s passage as “a great victory for victims of assault and discrimination who deserve their rightful day in court.”

The senator said the provision was inspired by the story of an employee for a defense contractor in Iraq, Jamie Leigh Jones, who alleged she was raped by coworkers.

“I will continue to stand up for folks like Jamie Leigh and everyone who needs a voice in Washington,” he said.

In 2011, Franken joined other Democratic senators to introduce the Arbitration Fairness Act (he reintroduced the bill in 2015) to “eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases.” Such clauses often apply to employees alleging workplace harassment.

Franken gave an emotional speech on the Senate floor in 2012 about the Violence Against Women Act, during which he cited the work Sheila Wellstone, the late wife of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), did with survivors of domestic violence.

“The VAWA reauthorization bill is another step toward a more just society as Sheila described it,” Franken said. “And I look forward to it becoming law.”

In 2016, after former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against the network’s then-president Roger Ailes and alleged she was fired after rejecting his advances, Franken and a number of other Democratic lawmakers allied with Carlson to reintroduce the arbitration legislation in 2017.

Amid the flood of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, whom dozens of women have accused of sexual harassment, assault or rape, Franken in October praised the accusers who have come forward as “incredibly brave.”

“It takes a lot of courage to come forward, and we owe them our thanks,” Franken wrote in a Facebook post. “And as we hear more and more about Mr. Weinstein, it’s important to remember that while his behavior was appalling, it’s far too common.”

Also in October, Franken pushed a bill to establish federal funding to train first responders and members of law enforcement in interviewing possible survivors.

Franken sponsored the legislation after a former intern raped a 19-year-old university student, Abby Honold, who reached out to Franken’s office to discuss the subject.

The senator has also tweeted, often and authoritatively, about the importance of supporting survivors.

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A news anchor on Thursday accused Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of forcibly kissing her and groping her while she was asleep in an act documented by a photographer in 2006, before he ran for office.

Leeann Tweeden, a morning anchor on Los Angeles station KABC, said she was part of a United Service Organizations (USO) tour in 2006 to entertain troops stationed in the Middle East. At the time, Tweeden said, she was “a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy,” and did not expect to play a large part in the performance.

Tweeden wrote in an essay for KABC that it was her ninth time on such a tour, which Franken, then a comedian, headlined. Tweeden said she agreed to play a part in one of Franken’s skits.

“When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’. I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd,” she wrote.

According to Tweeden, Franken insisted on rehearsing the kiss backstage, and “continued to insist” over her protestations until she agreed so he would stop “badgering” her.

“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” Tweeden wrote. “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”

Tweeden said nobody saw the incident, and that she did not tell the tour’s sponsor or the USO rep involved. She said she never “had a voluntary conversation” with Franken again and avoided being alone with him for the remainder of the tour. Franken responded with “petty insults,” according to Tweeden.

On the plane ride home to Los Angeles, Tweeden wrote, she “immediately fell asleep” after takeoff, exhausted after the tour.

“It wasn’t until I was back in the US and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one,” she wrote.

In the photograph, included in Tweeden’s piece, Franken is looking directly into the camera and grinning. He is reaching toward Tweeden’s chest. Tweeden’s eyes are closed, and the person sitting next to her also appears to be asleep.

“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden wrote. “I told my husband everything that happened and showed him the picture.”

Franken apologized to Tweeden in a statement obtained by TPM: “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

In a second statement Thursday afternoon, Franken offered a fuller apology.

“The first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry,” he said. “To Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women.”

He asked for an ethics investigation into himself and said he will “gladly cooperate” with such a probe.

“The fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed,” Franken said. “I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate.”

Tweeden said she is “still angry” about what she says Franken did.

“Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour,” she wrote. “Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”

This post has been updated.

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Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) on Wednesday said the state’s Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is “innocent until proven guilty” of allegations of sexual misconduct that six women have brought against him.

“What I have stated before and what I maintain is that an individual is innocent until proven guilty,” Merrill said on MSNBC.

He said the “original” allegations against Moore “are very serious.”

“And I think they need to continue to be vetted. I think all allegations or additional information that’s brought forward should be vetted,” Merrill said. “And again I feel as though if Judge Moore is indeed guilty of these allegations, that he should withdraw.”

Merrill on Tuesday said it was “possible” the women accusing Moore of misconduct were “making it up.”

Two more women came forward late Wednesday with allegations against Moore, bringing the total count to seven. Kelly Harrison Thorp told AL.com that Moore asked her out when she was 17 years old. Thorp said that Moore told her he went out with girls her age “all the time.”

Tina Johnson alleged that Moore groped her when she was 28 years old as she was leaving his law office.

Four women last week alleged that Moore pursued them for relationships when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. One, Leigh Corfman, said Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 years old. A fifth accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, on Monday said Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old.

Moore has denied the allegations.

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Two more women on Wednesday came forward with allegations about Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s past misconduct. One said Moore asked her out when she was 17 years old, and another said he groped her when she was 28 years old, bringing the total number of women with allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore to seven, according to AL.com.

Kelly Harrison Thorp told AL.com that in 1982, when she was 17, she worked at a Red Lobster restaurant in Gadsden, Alabama, where Moore practiced law.

Thorp said that Moore came into the restaurant once and asked her out.

“I just kind of said, ‘Do you know how old I am?'” Thorp told AL.com. “And he said, ‘Yeah. I go out with girls your age all the time.'”

Thorp said she turned Moore down and told him she had a boyfriend, and said Moore walked away.

Moore last week claimed that he did “not generally” date women in their teens, and has denied the allegations brought against him by five women besides the two who came forward on Wednesday.

Thorp told AL.com that she knows one of the other women who has accused Moore of misconduct — Leigh Corfman, who told the Washington Post last week that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 years old. The age of consent in Alabama is 16 years old.

Thorp said she was proud of Corfman, and said women with allegations against Moore did not come forward previously because of his local influence.

“Everybody knew it wouldn’t matter,” she told AL.com, “that he would get elected anyway because his supporters are never going to believe anything bad about him.”

Tina Johnson, also from Gadsden, told AL.com that Moore flirted with her in 1991, when she was 28 years old, while Johnson was at Moore’s office to give her mother custody of her 12-year-old son. Johnson said her mother was also at the meeting.

“He kept commenting on my looks, telling me how pretty I was, how nice I looked,” Johnson told AL.com. “He was saying that my eyes were beautiful.”

Johnson said that Moore came around his desk and sat on its edge, so close that she could smell his breath, and asked her questions about her two young daughters. According to Johnson, Moore asked whether they were as pretty as she was, and his line of questioning made her uncomfortable.

When she and her mother got up to leave, Johnson said, Moore came up behind her after her mother had already walked through the doorway and grabbed Johnson’s rear.

“He didn’t pinch it; he grabbed it,” Johnson told AL.com.

Johnson said she told her sister about the encounter years later, and Johnson’s sister told AL.com that she remembered the discussion.

Regarding the recent flood of accusations against Moore, Johnson said women did not come forward previously because “no one asked.”

“It’s because somebody asked,” she said. “If anybody had asked, we would have told it.”

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Wednesday said he will not vote for Republican lawmakers’ tax cut bill. Without Johnson’s support, the measure is hanging onto life by one vote.

“If they can pass it without me, let them,” Johnson said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “I’m not going to vote for this tax package.”

Johnson complained about the process Republican lawmakers used to write the tax legislation, and called it “pretty offensive, personally.”

His opposition may not be set in stone: After voicing opposition to a Republican health care bill in July, similarly depriving leadership of a crucial vote when conservatives had few to spare, Johnson alternately supported the bill and returned to indecision.

Republican Senate leadership on Tuesday introduced an amendment to the tax legislation that would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate, a provision that would save the government money at the cost of millions of people losing their health insurance.

Lawmakers hope to send the bill to Trump’s desk by the end of the year.

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A lawyer representing Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who stands accused of sexually pursuing minors and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl years ago, on Wednesday argued that cultural norms surrounding the age of consent vary throughout the world.

Moore’s lawyer Trenton Garmon made the argument in response to questions about Moore’s remark last week that he did not recall “dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”

“Why would he need permission from any of these girls’ mothers if they weren’t underage?” Stephanie Ruhle asked Garmon on MSNBC.

“That’s a good question, and culturally I would say there’s differences. I looked up Ali’s background there,” Garmon replied, referring to Ruhle’s co-host Ali Velshi. “Wow. That’s awesome, that you’ve got such a diverse background. It was cool to read through that.”

“What does Ali’s background have to do with dating a 14-year-old?” Ruhle shot back.

“I’m not finished with the context of it,” Garmon said.

“Well, please answer,” Ruhle pressed. “What does Ali Velshi’s background have to do with dating children, 14-year-old girls?”

“Sure,” Garmon said. “In other countries there’s arrangement through parents for what we would refer to as consensual marriage, so—”

“Ali’s from Canada,” Ruhle interrupted. “Ali’s from Canada.”

“I understand that. And Ali’s also spent time in other countries. It’s not a bad thing,” Garmon said.

“So have I,” Ruhle said.

“I don’t know where you’re going with this, Trenton,” Velshi, who was born in Kenya and raised in Ontario, said.

Watch the exchange:

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Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday said he does not think the “threshold” has been met to appoint a special counsel to look into matters related to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

“You can investigate something without special counsel,” Gowdy said on Fox News. “There is a threshold that has to be met, and I don’t think it has been met.”

During a House Judiciary hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grilled Attorney General Jeff Sessions about what it would take to get a special counsel investigation into the so-called Trump dossier and various Clinton-related accusations.

Sessions on Tuesday pushed back, and told Jordan that there must be a “factual basis” to appoint a special counsel.

“‘Looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” Sessions said. “You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel.”

Gowdy said he did not sign a letter Republican lawmakers sent Sessions asking for a special counsel’s appointment to investigate those matters.

“Jim Jordan is a great friend. I have tremendous respect for him. I didn’t sign the letter, because I don’t think the threshold has been met for an appointment of special counsel,” he said. “To say we’re not going to appoint special counsel is not to say we aren’t going to look into anything.”

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The Republican National Committee on Tuesday withdrew from a joint fundraising agreement with Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore after five women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

According to a Federal Election Commission filing, the RNC was no longer listed as a member of the fundraising agreement with Moore’s Senate campaign as of Tuesday.

Politico reported, citing an unnamed senior party official briefed on the decision, that the committee is also canceling a field program and will no longer give money to the Senate race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) dropped its fundraising agreement with Moore last week, and NRSC chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) on Monday called on the Senate to “expel” Moore if he refuses to withdraw from the race and wins.

Four women alleged last week that Moore pursued them sexually while they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. One woman said that Moore initiated sexual contact with her when she was 14 years old. A fifth woman on Monday accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16 years old.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Tuesday announced that the House will adopt “mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training” for lawmakers and staff after a hearing earlier Tuesday on a bill that would make such training mandatory.

“Going forward, the House will adopt a policy of mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all Members and staff,” Ryan said in a statement.

He said Tuesday’s hearing “was another important step in our efforts to combat sexual harassment and ensure a safe workplace” and said that “harassment in any form has no place in this institution.”

“I want to especially thank my colleagues who shared their stories,” Ryan said. “We will continue our review to make sure the right policies and resources are in place to prevent and report harassment.”

During a hearing by the House Administration Committee on Tuesday, Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA), both women, said several men who are current members of Congress have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Comstock said she heard a story from a trusted source about a male lawmaker who answered the door wearing only a towel to a female staffer delivering documents to his home. The lawmaker then invited the staffer inside and exposed himself to her, according to Comstock.

Speier said she heard allegations this year of interns getting propositioned for sex and “victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor,” and will introduce a bill later this week to reform the current process for reporting sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

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