Franken made a name for himself by demanding clear answers – but is currently unable to offer one up himself

The senator demands clarity from others – but is now struggling to offer that up himself.
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Sen. Al Franken during a May 3, 3017, Senate subcommittee hearing.

Sen. Al Franken during a May 3, 3017, Senate subcommittee hearing.

The possible response, in Sen. Al Franken's mind, was binary.

"Please answer yes or no sir, I'm asking you a question."

That was from an exasperated Franken while he was speaking to Facebook lawyer Colin Stretch during an Oct. 31 Senate subcommittee hearing about Russian election meddling. 

Stretch, when faced with Franken's "A or B" list of potential answers, tried to pick "C" – an explanation. Which the second-term senator tersely reminded him wasn't an option.

"Just answer yes or no. Can you do that?" Franken, unrelenting, continued. "You're sophisticated, you're the chief legal counsel for Facebook. Please answer yes or no."

Franken has used this type of phrase often in 2017, usually during his dogged questioning of Trump administration nominees or high-profile corporate execs.

He asks a question, they try to talk around it, and he interjects: It's A or B. Yes or no. Those are your options, so give me a clear answer.

Yet the second-term senator is now on the other side, and having the same problem he has lambasted those others for.

Did it happen, or did it not?

Since the first inappropriate conduct allegations surfaced Nov. 16, Franken (through his office) has issued a parade of apologies. 

The initial one, in response to Leeann Tweeden's USO Tour story, was short:

"I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it.”

Hours later he offered an expanded apology, acknowledging the poor thinking behind the now-infamous photo, but reiterating he doesn't "remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does."

He also said he understands we need to listen to women's stories, apologized profusely, and promised to work hard to make it up to people.

In the time since, three more women have said Franken grabbed their butt during a public event.

The senator's responses have been new dishes cooked with the same ingredients: he's sorry, he remembers it differently or doesn't remember it at all, but "feels badly" or "feels terrible" those women felt the way they did, and knows it will take a lot of work to regain the trust of the people he represents.

He has not definitively answered whether the backside-grabbing incidents happened or not. 

Instead of options A or B, yes or no – even when confronted directly by reporters from WCCO, the Star Tribune or MPR – he has taken option C.

“I’ve met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I’m a warm person; I hug people," he said in a Thanksgiving statement. "I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women."

"My intent was not to make them feel uncomfortable," he told WCCO's Esme Murphy. "I don't remember these photographs, I don't remember the situations, but that was certainly not my intent. But my intent doesn't matter. What matters is that we have to respect women's experiences."

So, is Franken acknowledging these things happened?

Or is he denying the accusations?

These seem like simple questions with binary responses. Instead, we've gotten wishy-washy, noncommittal explanations and excuses.

Franken, who made a name for himself demanding clear answers, has so far been unable to offer one up himself. 

"Please answer yes or no sir, I'm asking you a question."

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