Franken Case Sets Off Debate Over Line Between Abuse and a Mistake
WASHINGTON — A day after the latest in a dizzying series of sexual assault revelations enveloped Senator Al Franken and rattled the Capitol, politicians and comedians were left trying to assess the line between predatory behavior and an inexcusable mistake, as calls mounted for him to resign.
Mr. Franken, Democrat of Minnesota and a veteran of both comedy and politics — two industries under increased scrutiny for fostering cultures where sexual abuse is pervasive — was targeted by Republicans, including President Trump, who has himself been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and assault. Republicans are grappling with their own senatorial scandal, as Roy S. Moore pursues a Senate seat amid accusations of assaulting teenage girls.
But that did not diminish their zeal as they called on Mr. Franken to step down.
On Twitter, Mr. Trump publicly hinted at a pattern of assault, and the political fallout continued as two Minnesota candidates for governor, both Democrats, called on Mr. Franken to resign. The conservative writer and activist L. Brent Bozell III said Mr. Franken had been “caught red-handed conducting lewd an unacceptable behavior,” adding, “there is a pervert in the United States Senate.”
By Friday evening, Mr. Franken had canceled a coming appearance at a book fair in Miami.
But while there was no widespread public showing of support for Mr. Franken, a number of his allies, including three former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues and 10 former aides, all women, said that they did not believe his behavior fit a pattern or was in the same realm of misconduct as other high-profile men accused of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, including the comedian Louis C. K. and the producer Harvey Weinstein.
“I’m just so upset about this atmosphere and good people being dragged into it,” said Jane Curtin, a member of the original cast of “Saturday Night Live” with Mr. Franken from 1975 to 1980 who has been close with him since. “It’s just like the red menace. You don’t know who’s going to be next.”
Ms. Curtin said that in a comedy setting where women were at times not valued or dismissed because of their gender, Mr. Franken was a powerful ally who viewed female writers and comedians as his equal. But she was also among several who said they were disappointed by Mr. Franken’s conduct and were struggling with the episode, which happened during his comedy career.
“I was surprised,” Ms. Curtin said. “If he did that, that’s really stupid, but I have never seen him in a situation where he has been sexually aggressive…