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Franken's high-profile help to Missouri Democrats now may be an embarrassment

U.S. Sen. Al Franken speaks Saturday at the Truman Dinner in St. Louis. The Minnesota senator was the keynote speaker for the Missouri Democratic Party event.
Courtesy of the Missouri Democratic Party

Less than two weeks after U.S. Sen. Al Franken headlined the Missouri Democratic Party’s biggest event of the year, the Minnesota Democrat is back in the news over a groping allegation that is stirring up the state’s U.S. Senate race.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and a longtime friend of Franken’s, announced Thursday that Missouri food banks will be getting $30,000 from her – representing the campaign aid she has received from Franken’s political action committee since 2006.

“I’m shocked and concerned.” McCaskill said in a statement. “The behavior described is completely unacceptable. Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.”

A Republican challenger for the Senate, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, is pressing for further action by calling for McCaskill to also seek Franken’s resignation.

At issue is an allegation by a Los Angeles radio host, Leeann Tweeden, that Franken groped and kissed her during a 2006 USO tour to the Middle East. There’s also a photo from the trip that shows Franken putting his hands on Tweeden’s chest while she is apparently sleeping. He was not in the Senate at the time.

Franken apologized in a statementThursday, and has called for an ethics investigation into his own behavior. In addition to McCaskill, Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has echoed the call for an ethics inquiry.

Tweeden told reporters at a Los Angeles news conference that she believes he’s sorry and is not calling for Franken to step down from the Senate. Tweeden said her stance may change if more women come forward.

But Missouri Republicans are pressing for a resignation, and for the state Democratic Party to return money it raised earlier this month when Franken headlined the party’s Truman Dinner downtown.

Franken and his leadership committee, called the Midwest Values PAC, has been helpful to several Missouri Democrats, notably McCaskill. The PAC has donated the maximum $10,000 to each of her Senate campaigns, including the current one. Additionally, Franken spoke to Missouri Democrats who attended the party’s national convention in 2016 in Philadelphia.

News of the harassment allegation comes as state Democrats have been targeting Hawley on several fronts. He has criticized fellow Republican Senate hopeful Roy Moore of Alabama, who is set to compete in Alabama’s special Senate election Dec. 12.

Several women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct or harassment, in some cases when the women were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s. He has denied any wrongdoing. Hawley is calling for Moore to drop his Senate bid unless there is “rock solid’’ evidence that he’s innocent.

Follow Jo on Twitter:@jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.