Minnesota Sen. Al Franken acknowledged Thursday that he had “crossed a line for some women” with the way he embraced them during photographs at events.

In a Thanksgiving Day written statement, the embattled Democratic senator didn’t directly address new allegations by two women that he touched them inappropriately at Minneapolis events. The women spoke anonymously in a story published Wednesday by the Huffington Post, making it four women in a week to bring up past contact with Franken that made them uncomfortable.

Franken hasn’t appeared in public since the first accusations of sexual misconduct were raised by Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden.

In the new statement, Franken said he is committed to regaining trust of Minnesota voters who have elected him twice. He has resisted calls to resign and said he supports a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of his behavior.

“I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too great,” he said. “Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that.”

Franken said that he has recognized he needs to be more careful and sensitive in future interactions.

It’s unclear if the statement will answer critics, who have said his response to the allegations hasn’t cleared up questions and has diminished his ability to do his job.

With a few exceptions, prominent DFLers in Minnesota and allies in the Senate have stopped short of seeking his resignation.

Here’s Franken’s full statement:

“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. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many. Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that. I’ve thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and recognize that I need to be much more careful and sensitive in these situations. I feel terribly that I’ve made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again. And let me say again to Minnesotans that I’m sorry for putting them through this and I’m committed to regaining their trust.”

A top state official involved with developing the troubled new $90 million computer system for vehicle licensing is no longer working on the project.

Paul Meekin, the chief business technology officer for Minnesota IT Services, is on a leave of absence and not available, a spokesperson for the state agency said. She would not elaborate.

Reached at his home, Meekin also declined to comment.

“He appeared before our committee numerous times during session, and was one of the staff that assured us that the program was ready to go prior to rollout,” said Rep. Paul Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, the chair of the House transportation committee. “As it turned out, that was not the case.”

The agency confirmed that it is making several changes to the management structure for the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS). The changes include the hiring of a new, yet-to-be-named software development manager and the hiring of Dana Bailey, a former aide to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Gov. Mark Dayton, as executive director of projects and initiatives.

In addition, the agency’s chief enterprise architect, Joan Redwing, was assigned to the project

Officials are also hiring an outside vendor to work on the next phase of the project, which includes Real ID-compliant drivers licenses.

MNLARS has been plagued by problems since it went online last summer. Customers are still experiencing difficulties with plate, tab and title transaction

Meekin was involved with MNLARS from its early stages. He was listed as the project director in 2009 and 2010 and was part of the project steering committee in later years. Meekin is part of the executive leadership team at Minnesota IT Services and works as the chief business technology officer for the Department of Public Safety.

Meekin appeared before the House transportation committee in September to answer questions about the system’s rocky rollout. He was expected to appear at last week’s Senate transportation committee hearing on the same subject but did not show.

The committee chair, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, noted the absence.

“If we ask for staff to be here to answer our questions, I would appreciate it if they would be here,” Newman said.

Tom Baden, commissioner of Minnesota IT Services, said during the same hearing that, in hindsight, he should have held off on the July launch of MNLARS. Baden also told lawmakers that he was making several staff and organizational changes.

“We’re taking this very seriously, very urgently,” Baden said.

Gov. Mark Dayton recently apologized for the inconveniences MNLARS has caused to Minnesotans. Asked Wednesday about the management changes, Dayton said he didn’t ask for them, but he approves.

“Well, I think they’re very necessary,” he said. “I think it shows we’re very serious about straightening out the remaining defects in MNLARS.”

Good morning, and welcome to the day before Thanksgiving. This year I’m grateful for all the readers of this email/blog post. If you like it, please tell your friends. If you don’t, please keep it to yourself. Here’s the Digest.

1, Two Minnesota legislators succumbed to pressure to leave office amid allegations of sexual harassment, a move cheered as the first step toward changing a Capitol climate that some women say was too tolerant of misconduct. The announced resignations Tuesday of DFL state Sen. Dan Schoen and Republican Rep. Tony Cornish marked a hard fall for the two lawmakers, both with law enforcement backgrounds and political ambitions. Cornish had at times weighed a campaign for Congress and Schoen was mentioned as a candidate for state auditor.  Both legislators were subject to multiple complaints, some of which were denied and others explained as jokes or electronic communications that went awry. But women — lobbyists, staff and fellow lawmakers — said it stemmed from a culture where too many looked the other way when it came to bad behavior. Sarah Walker, the lobbyist who accused Cornish of repeated sexual advances, said in a statement that harassment had become pervasive. “No one should be forced to accept sexual harassment in exchange for the opportunity to work on issues in the political arena or anywhere else,” she said, coming forward publicly Tuesday evening as the lobbyist who had anonymously alleged wrongdoing by Cornish. (MPR News)

 

2. In less than a week since sexual harassment allegations were leveled against Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, his approval rating has plummeted and many Minnesotans say he should resign, according to a KSTP/SurveyUSA poll. In the poll conducted Monday night after allegations from a second woman were made public, only 22 percent of 600 Minnesotans surveyed said he should remain in office. Another 33 percent said he should resign, while 36 percent said he should wait for results of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent. (KSTP TV)

3. Meanwhile, a national poll showed 50 percent of respondents said Franken should resign outright, a view shared by 49 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Republicans and 44 percent plurality of independents. A 46 percent plurality of respondents said the Senate should expel Franken over the allegations against him. The Morning Consult/Politico survey was conducted before accusations from a second woman, who said Franken groped her while they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. In the case of Roy Moore, the GOP’s Senate nominee in Alabama who has been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl in 1979 and pursuing other romantic relationships with teen girls while in his early 30s, 57 percent of the 2,586 registered voters polled Nov. 16-19 said the Senate should expel Moore from the chamber if he defeats Democratic nominee Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 special election.(Morning Consult)

4. Reports that school cafeteria workers are taking lunches from kids who can’t afford them has legal and food advocates calling for change. Jill Haggerty, a mother in Stewartville in southeastern Minnesota, said her kids in middle and high school reported seeing lunches taken from classmates and the food dumped in metal buckets in front of them earlier this month. School district officials in Stewartville declined to answer questions about the practice, but did issue a statement. “At this point we have not been able to verify that any trays were actually pulled from students,” Superintendent Belinda Selfors said in the statement. “We are reviewing our procedures and ensuring that no child is being turned away from receiving a school lunch.” The Legislature passed a law in 2014 directing schools not to take public action against students from families who couldn’t pay for their lunches. (MPR News)

5. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is requiring an additional environmental study of a crash-protection wall that is planned along the proposed Southwest light-rail line that will be shared by freight and LRT trains. It is unclear whether the study will further delay the embattled $1.9 billion transit project. The 14.5-mile line will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, with passenger service expected to begin in 2022. But BNSF Railway, which owns 1.4 miles of right of way between the proposed Royalston Avenue/Farmers Market and Bryn Mawr LRT stations, required the addition of the 10-foot concrete wall in negotiations with the Metropolitan Council, which will build and operate the Southwest line. The cost of the wall is about $20 million. (Star Tribune)

The Digest is taking Thursday and Friday off to eat and recover. Have a great Thanksgiving!