Alan Stuart Franken was born on May 21, 1951 in New York City and was raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. In 1973 he graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He went on to become a writer (and a performer) for the television comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL) from 1975-80, and again from 1985-95. Franken left SNL for good in 1995, after the show’s producers refused to let him anchor its “Weekend Update” news parody segment. He also worked as a movie-script writer and made cameo appearances in several films, most notably Trading Places (1983) and The Manchurian Candidate (2004).
While working for SNL, Franken, still embittered by the fact that during his years at Harvard he had not been invited to join the university’s “Hasty Pudding Club” — a humorous dramatic society — told a Harvard Crimson interviewer: “I just don’t like homosexuals. If you ask me, they’re all homosexuals in the Pudding. Hey, I was glad when that Pudding homosexual got killed in Philadelphia.”
Characterizing America at large as a racist nation, Franken says that all-too-many white employers are bigots with an aversion to hiring black workers. Notably, over the course of his involvement in the television, radio, film, and book-publishing industries between 1975 and 2005, Franken himself was directly or indirectly responsible for the hiring of at least 112 people; only one was black.
Some additional anecdotes of Franken’s contempt for conservatives, Republicans, and even some political moderates:
Franken has been a longtime friend and adviser to Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore. On one occasion in 1996, he stated that he was in “Bill Clinton’s pocket.” In April 1998 he said, “I’m a bit of a shill for the Clinton Administration, which has its perks. I’m invited to all the inaugural balls.” And in a 2000 interview, he said: “[A]side from the blowjob thing [the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal] and lying about it, I think he’s done a very good job…. I don’t think we’ve had a guy [president] as talented in so many different ways in a long, long time.”
In April 2003, Franken, while serving as a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote fake letters on an official letterhead of the Shorenstein Center, which is part of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and mailed them to 29 high-profile conservative advocates of abstinence-only sex education—among them, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, conservative author William Bennett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, Cardinal Edward Egan, Senator Rick Santorum, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice—asking them to share their own personal “abstinence experiences” for an inspirational book for teens to be called Savin’ It! Franken’s targets saw through the ruse, however, and some complained to Harvard, forcing Franken to apologize for what he called his “imprudent attempt at satire.” “My biggest regret,” the comedian added. “is sending the letter on Shorenstein Center stationery. I can assure you that no one at the Shorenstein Center had knowledge of the letter before I sent it. I am very embarrassed to have put them in this awkward and difficult position, and I ask you not to hold this against the Center, the Kennedy School, or Harvard in general.”
Franken has authored five books, three of which reached the #1 position on the New York Times bestseller list. One of his most popular titles was Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations (1996). This book contains a host of “fat” jokes—37 of them, in fact, on one page. Elsewhere in the book, Franken says that Reagan adviser Lynn Nofziger resembles a pornographer; he refers to Republican Senator Phil Gramm as “Mum Arielle fetishistic”; he references an imaginary homosexual affair between conservative writer Pat Buchanan and former Vice President Dan Quayle; he describes, with an air of satisfaction, the fictional murder of conservative author William Bennett; and he portrays conservative columnist George Will, whom the author dubs “Stoner,” as a drug addict.
In 2003, while Franken was a fellow at Harvard University, he published Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. In this book, Franken derided conservative author Ann Coulter for a column in which she had observed that while the media commonly lampooned conservative women (like Katherine Harris and Linda Tripp) for some aspect of their physical appearance, they (the media) never poked fun at the appearance of leftists such as Madeleine Albright, Maxine Waters, or Janet Reno. Franken used the occasion to blast Coulter for allegedly singling out some “supposedly unattractive Democratic women.” Yet a few years earlier Franken himself had remarked, before a large Washington audience, that Reno was so unattractive that she would have been unable to earn even $25 for a lap dance. Also in Lies, Franken published statements that Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, who was an acquaintance of his, had made in an informal telephone chat that Franken was recording without Weber’s knowledge; nor did Weber know that Franken was planning to include his remarks in a book.
In 2005 Franken published The Truth (With Jokes), wherein he made the following statements:
In early 2004 Franken began a three-year stint as host of The Al Franken Show on Air America Radio. The program was originally called The O’Franken Factor (mocking Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly) but was renamed on July 12, 2004. It aired three hours each weekday, and its stated goal was to counterbalance what Franken perceived to be the dominance of conservative commentary on the radio: “I’m doing this because I want to use my energies to get Bush unelected,” he told a reporter in 2004.
On his program, Franken regularly condemned the use of “torture” against suspected terrorists, blasting President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for supposedly having authorized the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But scarcely a year earlier at a National Press Club event, Franken himself had explicitly advocated the use of torture against suspected terrorists: “Here’s a tool that I think we should consider keeping on the table—torture. I’m talking a bit about the detainees. We have like 300 detainees — not all the detainees, by the way—just [those] like the guy who had an apartment in Paterson, New Jersey, and who was inquiring about crop-dusting. That guy knows something, right? Now you know that he’s willing to die for this perverse cause. My question is: Is he willing to take a poker up the butt for it? You know he wants to service the 72 virgins in paradise. Does he think he can do that after we have crushed his testicles?”
Franken continued to host his radio program through February 14, 2007. Then, in the last segment of the final show, he announced that he would be running for a United States Senate seat (representing Minnesota) against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. (Eight years earlier, Franken, who did not yet have any serious plans to run for political office, had said: “If I put myself on the ballot and even 50 people voted for me, it’d be a travesty.”)
Once Franken became a candidate in 2007, critics and news reporters raised questions about financial scandals in his past. It was learned, for example, that from 2002-05, Franken’s corporation, Alan Franken Inc., had failed to carry the required workers’ compensation insurance for its employees in New York State, and that Franken had repeatedly ignored communications about the matter from New York officials. In April 2008, after months spent dodging questions from critics and opponents about the state of his finances, Franken finally admitted that he owed approximately $70,000 in unpaid taxes in 17 states. Shortly thereafter, the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Board fined Franken’s corporation $25,000 to cover three years’ worth of unpaid workers’ compensation dues. Franken blamed his accountant for his financial troubles.
Franken’s 2008 Senate race against Coleman was hotly contested and extremely close. It was also marred by what journalist Matthew Vadum called “appalling irregularities that characterized both the initial and subsequent vote-counting.” The morning after the election, Coleman led Franken by 725 votes. But Franken refused to concede, and the thin margin triggered an automatic recount. With ACORN-aligned Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (who had won his own office with the help of funding from the Secretary of State Project) presiding over the recount process, Coleman’s lead gradually vanished due to a host of mysterious, newly discovered votes that almost invariably benefited Franken. By the time the recount (and a court challenge by Coleman) had ended in April 2009, Franken held a 312-vote lead. On June 30, after the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejected his lawsuit, Coleman officially conceded and Franken was declared the victor. A detailed account of these developments can found here.
On November 22, 2008 — while the Minnesota recount was still in progress — an article in the Communist Party USA newspaper Peoples World emphasized how useful a Franken victory would be to the cause of the left: “Franken’s race against GOP incumbent Norman Coleman is important nationally. To get pro-worker bills through the Senate, workers and their allies need 60 votes, out of 100 senators, to cut off GOP filibusters. That includes a presumed GOP talkathon against the Employee Free Choice Act, which is designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing and bargaining first contracts.”
Reflecting upon Franken’s victory in the Senate race, Republican Mary Kiffmeyer, Minnesota’s former secretary of sate, said in 2010 that as soon as Mark Ritchie had taken office as Minnesota’s secretary of state in 2006, he began loosening a host of election controls that had been in place for the purpose of ensuring fair elections. “The first thing he did when he got into office,” said Kiffmeyer, “was to dismantle the ballot reconciliation program [under which] districts are required to check … the number of ballots issued by matching them with the number of ballots cast, that way we know immediately that the vote count is accurate. But that isn’t what happened. We now have 17,000 more ballots cast than there are voters who voted, and no way to determine what went wrong.” Kiffmeyer said she was “absolutely sure” that Ritchie’s efforts to eliminate voting regulations were responsible for Franken’s victory. Moreover, Dan McGrath and Jeff Davis, founders of the watchdog group Minnesota Majority, concluded that Franken’s 312-vote margin of victory was directly attributable to Ritchie’s tampering with election rules. One consequence of Ritchie’s actions, for example, was that some 1,400 convicted felons, mostly residing in heavily Democratic areas, illegally voted in that election.
In 2009 Franken championed the cause of Jamie Leigh Jones — a former civilian employee of Halliburton Company subsidiary KBR, Inc. — who told the media that in 2005 a number of her male co-workers in Iraq had drugged her, gang-raped her vaginally and anally, and beaten her so brutally that her breast implants ruptured; she also claimed that KBR personnel had subsequently locked her inside a shipping container guarded by men armed with machine guns. The day after the alleged assaults against Jones — who had falsely accused four men of rape in four separate incidents prior to arriving in Iraq — a female doctor examined her and found no evidence to support any of the woman’s charges against KBR. The doctor concluded only that Jones had engaged in consensual sex with one man. Notwithstanding these facts, Franken went to the Senate floor to passionately denounce KBR and accuse its employees of rape. As Mother Jones magazine noted: “Franken parlayed [Jamie Leigh] Jones’ case into his first major legislative coup, a bill barring the military from contracting with companies that require employees to arbitrate sexual harassment or assault claims” — rather than permit those employees to have their cases heard in court.
Because Jones’s allegations could not be substantiated by any evidence whatsoever, a federal grand jury refused to bring a rape indictment against KBR or any of its employees. Moreover, Jones lost her $100 million civil lawsuit against KBR and the one co-worker with whom she had been sexual, and she was ordered to pay $145,000 to cover KBR’s court costs for the case. Instead of paying this debt, however, Jones declared bankruptcy while collecting $175,000 in taxpayer funds from her workers’ compensation claim. When it became clear that Franken had been completely mistaken about the crimes he accused KBR of committing, he did not issue an apology; instead he simply went silent regarding the matter.
On March 12, 2012, Franken joined Tom Udall, Charles Schumer, and five other Democrat senators in writing a letter to IRS officials, urging the agency to give extra scrutiny to the activities of conservative “social welfare organizations” that were applying for tax-exempt status. The letter warned of “abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities.” Fourteen months later, news broke that the IRS had been engaged in a massive scandal whereby it had delayed and derailed tax-exemption applications filed by hundreds of conservative organizations.
In May 2015, Franken was one of fourteen U.S. senators who signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to allow 65,000 people from war-torn, terrorism-ravaged Syria into the United States as refugees, despite many people’s concern that terrorists could potentially infiltrate the refugee program. The other signatories included Senators Dick Durbin, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, Patty Murray, Robert Menendez, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeanne Shaheen, Chris Coons, Tim Kaine, Ed Markey, Sherrod Brown, and Mazie Hirono.
In the summer of 2015, Franken supported the deal that the Obama administration negotiated with Iran—an agreement allowing the regime in Tehran to: inspect its own Parchin nuclear weapons research site, continue enriching uranium, build advanced centrifuges, purchase ballistic missiles, fund terrorism, and have a near-zero breakout time to a nuclear bomb a decade or so down the road. It is notable that prior to voicing his support for the Iran deal, Franken had received financial backing from the Iran Lobby, i.e., the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC). His Franken Recount Fund had also picked up money from Hassan Nemazee, a former IAPAC trustee who served as the national campaign finance director for Hillary Clinton’s first presidential bid before he pled guilty to a fraud scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars.
In November 2015, Franken strongly supported the Black Lives Matter activists who were occupying—sometimes violently—the area in front of the 4th Precinct police station in Minneapolis as they protested the recent police shooting of a black convicted felon named Jamar Clark.
Franken favors the passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that could bring illegal aliens “out of the shadows and put them on a path to citizenship.”
For an overview of Franken’s positions on various key issues, as well as his voting record in the U.S. Senate, click here.
Over the course of his political career, Franken received support from such groups as 21st Century Democrats, the now-defunct ACORN, the Council for a Livable World, the Democratic Socialists of America, JStreet, Peace Action, and Planned Parenthood.
Allegations of Sexual Harassmant, & Franken’s Resignation from the Senate
On November 16, 2017, Leeann Tweeden, the news anchor for McIntyre in the Morning on KABC Radio in Los Angeles, announced that Franken had sexually harassed her eleven years earlier, when Tweeden was a model and sportscaster and was working with Franken on a skit entertain American troops during a USO tour. Specifically, Tweeden claimed that Franken had forcibly kissed her and pushed his tongue inside of her mouth; she also presented a photograph that showed a smiling Franken groping Tweeden’s breasts while she slept. The same day that Tweeden went public with her accusations, Franken posted an online apology for his actions.
On November 21, 2017, a second woman, Lindsay Menz, stepped forward to accuse Franken of sexual harassment, telling CNN that the senator had grabbed her rear end as her husband snapped a photo of the two at the Minnesota State Fair seven years earlier. Upon learning of the accusation, Franken said he did not recall the episode but voiced contrition nevertheless.
On November 22, 2017, anonymous women told the Huffington Post that Franken had grabbed their buttocks while they posed with him for photos — one after a June 25, 2007 event hosted by the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus in Minneapolis, and the other at a 2008 Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis. The second woman also claimed that Franken had suggested to her that she visit a nearby bathroom with him.
Responding to the foregoing allegations, Franken said in an interview: “I understand I am going to have to do everything I can going forward to be enormously sensitive. I apologize to these women.” However, he also claimed not to remember taking photos with the accusers or inappropriately touching them. When interviewer Esme Murphy asked Franken directly if he had ever placed a hand on a woman’s buttocks, the senator replied: “I can’t say that that hasn’t happened. I take thousands and thousands of pictures, sometimes in crowded and chaotic situations. I can’t say I haven’t done that.” “I am very sorry if these women experienced that,” he added.
On November 30, 2017, a fifth woman — 41-year-old U.S. Army veteran Stephanie Kemplin — told CNN that Franken had groped her during a USO tour in December 2003, when Kemplin was deployed in Kuwait. “When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast,” Kemplin said in an interview. “He kept his hand all the way over on my breast. I’ve never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side.”
Also on November 30, a sixth woman — an unnamed elected official in New England — came forward and stated that Franken had attempted to give her a “wet, open-mouthed kiss” at a live taping of his Air America program in 2006.
On December 6, 2017, a former Democratic congressional aide said that Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, at which time the woman was in her mid-twenties.
For a list of all of Franken’s accusers through December 6, 2017, as well as details of their allegations, click here.
On December 7, 2017, Franken announced that he would be resigning from the U.S. Senate sometime in the coming weeks. He maintained, however, that in his own view, he was not guilty of any wrongdoing for which he should have been forced to resign. Said the senator:
“Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claim, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation. Because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously. I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently…. I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator, nothing has brought dishonor on this institution. I am confident that the ethics committee would agree.”
Then, taking a verbal swipe at President Donald Trump and Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, Franken said : “[T]here 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 repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
On January 2, 2018, Franken formally resigned from the Senate by issuing an official letter of resignation to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. Said the letter: “I write to resign my seat as a United States Senator for the State of Minnesota effective at 1 pm Eastern Standard Time on January 2, 2018. Serving the State of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate has been a privilege and an honor. I am grateful to Minnesotans for giving me the chance to serve our state and our nation, and I am proud to have worked on their behalf.”