Al Franken, the Democratic senator for Minnesota, announced on the Senate floor on Thursday that he would resign amid a stream of sexual misconduct allegations.
Addressing the allegations, which have been made by at least eight different women, Franken insisted some of the reports against him were untrue, while saying that he remembered others differently.
The senator from Minnesota had apologized to some of the women accusing him and said he would cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. However, after a majority of his Democratic colleagues called for him step down on Wednesday as fresh allegations came to light, Franken found himself forced to bow to the pressure.
"I know in my heart that nothing I've done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution," Franken said. "Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate."
Despite denying the allegations, Franken nevertheless insisted that woman accusing him of improper conduct "deserve to be heard and [have] their experiences taken seriously."
Franken, 66, a former comedian who rose to fame on "Saturday Night Live," was widely regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party, having won the Minnesota Senate seat in 2008.
Following US President Donald Trump's election to the White House, Franken became one of the fiercest opponents of the administration. Before the allegations arose, there was even talk of Franken making a bid for the Democrats' 2020 presidential nomination.
He is the second lawmaker to leave the US Congress this week amid an ever-widening backlash against sexual harassment and assault. On Tuesday, Michigan Democrat John Conyers announced his resignation following claims by his congressional aids of sexual assault.
His departure opens the door for a Republican to recapture the seat the party lost following Franken's 2008 election win, and thereby extend their slim 52-48 Senate majority.
First, however, Minnesota's democratic governor, Mark Dayton will appoint a successor in the coming days to take over Franken's seat. A special election in November 2018 will then decide who sees through the end of Franken's term until January 2021.
Parting jab at Trump
In his resignation speech, Franken also referenced the sexual assault allegations facing Trump and his fellow Republican, Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Franken told the Senate floor: "I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party."
A spate of allegations
The latest allegations took the total number of woman accusing Franken of sexual misconduct to at least eight.
On Wednesday morning a former Democratic congressional aide accused Franken of forcibly trying to kiss her in 2006, before he was elected to the Senate. Franken swiftly denied the allegations, but then, just hours later, another woman said he had inappropriately squeezed "a handful of flesh" on her waist while posing for a photo in 2009.
Allegations against Franken first surfaced in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles model and radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during an entertainment tour for US troops in Afghanistan.
At least four other women have accused Franken of groping them, either on the buttocks or the breast.
Another Congressman, House of Representative Republican Trent Franks, said on Thursday that he would resign amid an investigation into sexual harassment by the House Ethics Committee.
Franks said he had never physically intimidated or coerced any member of staff, but that he was sorry his discussion in the workplace relating to his family issue of surrogacy had upset two female staffers.
dm/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)