WASHINGTON: US Senator Al Franken said on Thursday (Dec 7) he will resign in the face of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against him, becoming the second prominent Democrat to be forced out in a week over the snowballing harassment allegations convulsing the country.
But in a emotional and defiant address from the Senate floor, the comedian-turned-lawmaker also delivered a parting shot at President Donald Trump and the Republican politician Roy Moore, who is running for the Senate despite being accused of molesting teenagers.
Facing a groundswell of demands to resign from within his own party ranks, Franken acknowledged his position had become untenable, but also insisted he remained a "champion" of women and that some of the accusations against him "are simply not true."
"There's been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks," said the 66-year-old Minnesota lawmaker, as several of his colleagues looked on. "But I know who I really am."
"I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator - nothing - has brought dishonor on this institution."
"Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate."
The once-popular lawmaker, who made his name on the popular late-night show "Saturday Night Live," last month acknowledged and apologised for one incident of sexual misconduct, vowing to work to regain public trust.
The allegation, dating back to 2006, was made by sports broadcaster and former model Leeann Tweeden, who said Franken forcibly kissed her, and touched her through a flak jacket as she slept, during a tour entertaining US troops deployed in Afghanistan.
But with six other women now reportedly coming forward to accuse Franken of touching them inappropriately, a chorus of Democratic senators said it was time for him to go.
In announcing his resignation, Franken also took direct aim at Trump - who has faced multiple allegations of harassment - and at the Alabama politician Moore, who received the president's endorsement ahead of a special election next week despite accusations he molested underage girls.
"I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who bragged on tape about his history of the sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party," Franken said.
'RESPECT OUR LEADERS'
Minnesota's governor, Democrat Mark Dayton, said he expected to announce a decision on a replacement to fill the senator's vacant seat in the coming few days.
Franken's resignation came just two days after Democrat John Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress, left the House of Representatives after several former staffers accused him of sexual misconduct.
And it follows a torrent of accusations of harassment that have felled powerful figures in the worlds of entertainment, the media and politics, triggered by the claims targeting movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Franken's accuser Tweeden acknowledged his decision to stand down.
"While I do not celebrate Senator Franken's resignation, we cannot tolerate hypocrisy," she said. "We must be able to trust and respect our leaders."
With support from fellow Democrats vanishing, Franken faced a stark decision: heed calls to leave, and allow the party to close ranks and try to gain the moral high ground amid a tidal wave of sexual harassment allegations that have lashed the political world - or stay and fight.
'WOMEN WILL COME FORWARD'
Female senators had led the revolt against Franken, as allegations against him mounted, taking to social media to demand his resignation.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Facebook post sounded the opening salvo on Wednesday, as she declared that the nation - and Congress - faced a "moment of reckoning" regarding sexual misconduct.
She appeared visibly upset during Franken's speech. Several other Democrats surrounded him and offered hugs and handshakes when he finished.
But despite the emotional farewells, Franken's resignation was the result of a dramatic and sudden show of unity against one of their own in the 100-member chamber, where the Republicans hold a slim majority.
Diane Feinstein, one of the longest-serving women in the Senate, described it as a turning point.
"I think we're in the midst of a huge cultural shift, and that things that happened years ago, that women were afraid to do anything about - that fear no longer exists. And women will come forward" with their accusations, Feinstein told AFP.
With Democrats cleaning house, Senator Tom Carper downplayed the suggestion the party was driven by political expediency before 2018's mid-term elections.
"We're not that far ahead. There's no Machiavellian thinking going on here," Carper told reporters. 'This is just an instance where someone has behaved badly."