In the nearly two years since he resigned from the Senate in disgrace following multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior, Al Franken has been slowly making his way back into the spotlight. He started with a weekly podcast, followed by his first major interview with The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and then this week’s announcement that he will be joining SiriusXM to host a weekly radio show and help cover the 2020 election.
And on Thursday night, Franken sat down for his first late-night appearance since leaving the Senate with his old friend and former Saturday Night Live colleague Conan O’Brien.
“We have a great deal to talk about,” O’Brien said while introducing his guest, and the host did not hesitate to get into the difficult questions at the top of the interview.
“The #MeToo movement, I think we can all agree, has brought to light a lot of offensive behavior by a lot of men and rightfully so and has been to the great good,” O’Brien began. “Many people think that your case—it made them feel uneasy, and there was some questions and uneasiness about your particular situation and how it was resolved.” Referring specifically to the several Democratic senators who now say they regret pushing Franken out, he asked, “Is this a watershed moment for you?”
Franken said it was “very gratifying” for him to get an apology from his former colleagues, adding, “They just basically all said that I deserved due process. And I believe I did too.”
Why then, O’Brien wanted to know, did Franken resign on his own volition instead of fighting to clear his name.
“I don't want to name any names, but, you know, my committee work would be at risk. I mean, basically losing that,” Franken said. “My staff would be isolated. And I just couldn't serve the people of Minnesota. But, you know, it really needed to have a process, but I just couldn't stay either. It was awful. There were no good choices.” He said he felt a “tremendous amount of pressure” to walk away and ultimately didn’t think he had “any other choice” but to do so.
Asked what he’s learned from the experience, Franken said, “When this first happened, if you had asked me, ‘Have you ever made a woman feel uncomfortable by the way you put your arm around her or touched her or something like that’ I would have said no. And after all these allegations came in, I thought, well, I must be doing something wrong. Right? Ever since, I've been a lot more mindful in my interactions with pretty much everyone.”
“People who know me know that I'm not that guy,” he added. “That guy that 36 of my colleagues demanded that I go and the pressure came on me in no uncertain terms that I had to go.”
Overall, O’Brien was just about as sympathetic an interviewer as Franken could have asked for, going on to praise him for being a “really effective, hard-working senator” and expressing how much he believes he’s missed now that the country is on the verge of impeachment hearings.
Despite his return to a career in radio, Franken clearly misses his old job as well. Asked by O’Brien if he ever finds himself “yelling at the screen” during Senate hearings “because you have the right idea for the question and the person on the screen is not asking that question,” he took a long pause before replying, “Yes. Yes, that happens.”
“It is very frustrating,” Franken added, revealing that he’s gone so far as to email former colleagues in the middle of hearings with his suggestions.
“When I left the Senate, I said I'm giving up my seat, I'm not giving up my voice,” Franken told O’Brien before promoting his new SiriusXM show, where he’ll have a lot less power than he once did but plenty of space to express his opinions.