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Embattled former Senator Al Franken returns to public eye with weekly radio show

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Pete Buttigieg says he would not have pushed Al Franken out 08:11

Al Franken, who resigned his U.S. Senate seat in 2017 amid sexual misconduct charges, will re-emerge into the public sphere on Saturday when he starts a new weekly radio show on the SiriusXM satellite service.

The Minnesota Democrat is perhaps the most prominent public figure felled by the #MeToo movement to step back into public life. He said he has no plans to return to politics, but as an author, former "Air America" radio host and "Saturday Night Live" writer and comedian, he's returning to a realm he inhabited before becoming a senator. Sirius originally carried Franken's Air America show. 

"I miss the Senate a lot but I'm not there so I want to be a voice," he said in an interview. Of the public's acceptance, he said "a lot of that will depend on me and whether folks think what I'm saying is important and fun at the same time."

The one-hour interview show with figures from politics, entertainment and other fields will air Saturdays at 10 a.m. ET on the Sirius Progress channel, with replays available on demand. Comic Chris Rock will be the first guest, with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and comic Patton Oswalt lined up for future shows.

Franken said he's been talking for a few months with Sirius about the show, the conversations an outgrowth of a podcast he's been hosting.

He said there's a lot of public issues he wants to talk about, particularly with the 2020 election looming, mentioning health care and education specifically.

"When Harry's (Reid) on, I'll be the funny one," he said. "When Rock is on, I'll be the one who served in the Senate."

Franken's support among fellow Senate Democrats crumbled quickly in 2017 after conservative radio host Leeann Tweeden and several other women accused him of unwanted kissing or touching. A photo that showed him with his hands appearing to reach for the breasts of Tweeden as she slept while returning from a USO tour — an apparent joke badly gone awry — mobilized public opinion against him.

An investigation by The New Yorker magazine published this summer called some of the charges against him into question. In the piece, seven current or former senators who had demanded his resignation now said they regretted doing so. An eighth, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, said so after the article was published. But New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, widely seen as the leader of the movement to remove Franken, has expressed no such regrets.

"I was very gratified that eight of my colleagues have apologized and done so publicly and expressed regret for not giving me due process," he said. "It's pretty rare that you get one senator admitting that he or she had done something wrong. I think the American people believe in due process as well."

He said he doesn't plan further discussion on his show about what happened to him and, if anyone is interested, he'll point them in the direction of the New Yorker piece. In that article, Franken said he "absolutely" regretted stepping down and that he was angry at fellow senators who pressured him to leave.

Franken told the AP that he didn't expect that any feeling of betrayal by colleagues will be a problem when he has to discuss issues that involve, for instance, Gillibrand or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He said he's had no potential guest turn him down out of skittishness about being involved in controversy.

"When I'm doing that it won't be about personalities," Franken said. "It will be about where people stand."

He said he had no comment about the fate of Gillibrand's presidential campaign, which she ended in late August.

Sirius said in a statement that "Al Franken is an important and influential progressive voice, whom many have missed. 

"SiriusXM is the perfect platform for him to re-enter the public conversation," said Megan Liberman, SiriusXM's Senior Vice President of News, Talk, and Entertainment Programming.

The company said that in addition to his weekly show, Franken will participate in elections coverage, including on the nights of debates, primaries and the election.

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