Al Franken’s regrets over resigning from the Senate add up to a tragedy for our times. They are relayed by Jane Mayer in an illuminating scoop in the New Yorker. It’s a long, reported dispatch to which it’s hard to do justice in a short editorial. The nub of it is that Mr. Franken wishes he’d held out for an investigation by the Senate’s Ethics Committee.
Instead, Mr. Franken quit, and, by his own account, went into a deep, even clinical depression. It’s a heartbreaking report. Not that we’re fans of Mr. Franken’s behavior or his politics. We lurk kiloparsecs to the right of Mr. Franken, Ms. Mayer, and the New Yorker. We did, though, develop, when we worked in the same newsroom as Ms. Mayer, an admiration for her reporting chops.
What animates us in this story is the constitutional — even pre-constitutional — principle of due process. It has long been one of our editorial lodestars, rarely more so than in the current crisis. That’s not atypical for a right-of-center publication. We are, though, among the few publications that pointedly urged Mr. Franken against quitting the Senate.
That was in early December, 2017, as rumors swirled that Mr. Franken was going to abandon the voters who’d sent him to Washington. The editorial was called “Senator Franken’s Fate.” Mr. Franken was still denying that he was about to announce his resignation in the face of allegations of sexual harassment. We hoped his family would tell him to slow down.
We appreciate the seriousness of the issue of sexual harassment. We are for the enforcement of our laws, including those covering sexual matters. That precisely requires due process, no matter how challenging due process can be when intimate crimes are involved. The more shocking the crime, in our view of the world, the more due process is at a premium.
When we editorialized for Mr. Franken, an appalling scene was unfolding in the Senate. The New York Times had just reported that “more than half” of the Democrats, including their caucus leader, Senator Schumer, had called for their Democratic colleague to resign his elected office before any kind of official finding. Senator Gillibrand exemplified the lack of feck.
“While he’s entitled to an Ethics Committee hearing,” Senator Gillibrand said at the time, “I believe he should step aside to let someone else serve.” “Why?” we asked back then. “If he’s entitled to a hearing, why should he not wait for the results? That would be, in our view, better if he’s innocent, better if he’s guilty, and better if the facts are ambiguous.”
So upset is Mr. Franken, even to this day, over the way his critics spoke of him that at one point in his interview with Ms. Mayer, she reports, he began to cry. Nor is Mr. Franken the only one that has regrets. Ms. Mayer counts what she calls “a remarkable number” of Mr. Franken’s Senate colleagues who regret their own roles in his downfall.
Senator Leahy calls his decision to seek Mr. Franken’s resignation “one of the biggest mistakes” he’s made. Senator Heitkamp, now out of office, confessed she called for Mr. Franken to quit “without concern for exactly what this was.” Tammy Duckworth, Angus King, Bill Nelson, Jeff Merkley, Thos. Udall, all seem ashamed of failing to stand for due process. Maybe for penance they’ll quit, too.
Image: Detail of of photograph of Senator Franken. Via Wikipedia.