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Trump Enters Fraught Territory By Criticizing Al Franken

Then-candidate Donald Trump walks onstage at a presidential debate in St. Louis two days after a video was released, in which he is heard talking to <em>Access Hollywood</em> host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women.
Andrew Harnik
Then-candidate Donald Trump walks onstage at a presidential debate in St. Louis two days after a video was released, in which he is heard talking to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET

President Trump lashed out on Twitter on Thursday night against Sen. Al Franken, who has been accused by a Los Angeles radio host of sexually assaulting her. Leeann Tweeden, a former model, was on a USO tour with Franken in 2006, before he was a senator, when the incident occurred. She also produced a photo of Franken posed with his hands on her chest as she slept.

In his tweet, Trump referred to the Minnesota Democrat as "Al Frankenstien," and suggested Franken may have done more with his hands in subsequent photos. "Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?" Trump wondered.

Franken did not deny Tweeden's accusations and has apologized. She did not accuse him of further assault as suggested by Trump. Tweeden said on Thursday that she accepted Franken's apology and does not believe he should resign over the incident.

In a second tweet, Trump said that last week, Franken had been "lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women."

He also refers to the "Lesley Stahl tape," apparently a reference to a 1995 article in New York Magazine in which Franken, then a member of the cast of Saturday Night Live discusses the sketch-writing process and a possible skit in which the 60 Minutes host would be drugged and raped.

The revelations about sexual misconduct by Franken are among the latest in a wave of allegations against men in politics, entertainment and media, including at NPR.

Criticizing Franken is fraught territory for the president.

Trump has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women. During the 2016 campaign, NPR tracked more than a dozen incidents in which he was accused of unwanted sexual contact or attempted sexual contact by women over a span of decades. The president has denied the allegations.

Pressed by reporters Friday about those accusations against Trump and any apparent hypocrisy given his comments about Franken, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was curt: "Sen. Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't. That's a very big distinction."

Trump's campaign was nearly derailed after the release of a 2005 tape in which he talked about women in vulgar terms, describing acts of sexual assault, in a taped conversation with Billy Bush, then-host Access Hollywood, that leaked a few weeks before last year's election. Trump later said his words "don't reflect who I am" and has dismissed them as "locker room talk."

Among the women who have accused Trump of assault is Jessica Leeds, who told NPR last year that Trump groped and kissed her during a flight to New York as she tried to fight him off. The alleged incident occurred more than 30 years ago.

Trump was prompted to make a speech in October 2016 in which he rebutted specifics in some of the published stories, questioning the timing of the allegations about a month before Election Day. He also called his accusers "horrible, horrible liars."

Sanders was also asked Friday whether the president still believed all the women who had come forward against him were lying. She responded that Trump has "spoken about this multiple times throughout the campaign and has denied all of those allegations" and that "the American people spoke very loud and clear when they elected this president" on whether they believed the accusations.

And while Trump is publicly criticizing Franken, he has remained mostly silent about the allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, neither condemning them nor calling for the Republican to withdraw from the race as several other top party members have.

Sanders told reporters Thursday: "Look, the president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously." She added that the people of Alabama "should make the decision on who their next senator should be."

On Friday, Sanders pointed out that Trump himself did weigh in on Roy Moore while he was on his foreign trip to Asia — however, that was only to say that he hadn't seen much about the reported allegations. A White House statement on Nov. 10 said the president believed Moore should step aside "if these allegations are true." Sanders said Trump does support the Republican National Committee's decision to pull its financial and field resources from the Alabama race.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.