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U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley: Voters deserve answers on allegations against opponent
But Iowa Republican says he doesn’t plan to make the report a campaign issue
DES MOINES — Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said voters deserve clear answers about accusations that his Democratic opponent grabbed and kissed a former campaign staffer without her consent, but he said he doesn’t plan to make a campaign issue out of it.
Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, has denied the incident happened, and his campaign has noted an April police report detailing the incident was closed as unfounded.
“Anyone who wants to run for the Senate who’s been accused of something like this owes Iowans a clear and honest explanation,” he told Jeff Stein on News/Talk 1540 KXEL radio on Tuesday.
Kimberly Strope-Boggus, a former member of Franken's campaign staff, made the allegations to Des Moines police in April.
Strope-Boggus, who was fired from the campaign in February, told police that after meeting for drinks at a Des Moines bar in March, a person — who is not named but presumed to be Franken based on the context — grabbed the collar of her vest and kissed her on the mouth. When she pulled away, he stopped the contact and walked away without saying anything, the report says.
In the report, Strope-Boggus told police she did not think the kiss was done in an aggressive or sexual manner or with intent to harm.
Franken has denied the report, telling The Gazette on Monday, “It never happened.”
Franken acknowledged he met Strope-Boggus that night, at her request, and “had a glass of beer.”
The case was closed as “unfounded” by the Des Moines Police Department, and the Polk County Attorney declined to open a case after determining no criminal intent was established.
'Not a campaign issue'
Grassley told Radio Iowa he doesn’t plan to make the reported incident into a campaign issue, but other Iowa Republicans, and his campaign staff, have called for more answers from Franken and Democrats.
“Franken made this a campaign issue, I think, by his comments,” Grassley told Radio Iowa. “But it’s not a campaign issue I’m going to follow up on.”
Still, Grassley’s campaign spokesperson Michaela Sundermann said in a tweet on Tuesday that the allegations would “continue to be an issue in this campaign.”
“So far, Mike Franken has only issued blanket denials — effectively calling his own former campaign manager a liar — but he’s yet to address the specific charges in the police report,” Sundermann said in a statement on Tuesday.
Asked for a response to Grassley’s comments Tuesday morning, Franken’s campaign manager Julie Stauch referred to a statement from Monday saying the allegations were false.
After Sundermann's news release, Stauch provided another statement criticizing the difference in tone between Grassley and his campaign.
"Chuck Grassley said on the record Tuesday morning this is 'not a campaign issue' — but hours later, his staff is issuing lengthy news releases and continuing to push false allegations that were already determined to be 'unfounded.' Who exactly is in charge over at Team Grassley?” Stauch said.
Call for ’release’
In the incident report, Strope-Boggus said the Franken campaign asked her to sign a separation agreement that included a stipulation not to make disparaging remarks about the candidate or his campaign. Strope-Boggus did not return a message from The Gazette seeking comment on Monday and hasn’t spoken to other media outlets.
Republicans, and Grassley’s campaign, have called on Franken to release Strope-Boggus from the non-disparagement agreement, which they say would allow her to speak more freely about the situation.
Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann said the non-disparagement agreement is a method of silencing Strope-Boggus.
“He’s calling the victim, the accuser, a liar, and she is unable to respond,” Kaufmann said. “There’s something inherently wrong about that.”
Sundermann, Grassley’s campaign manager, called the report “disturbing” and said Strope-Boggus should have the opportunity to be heard. She pointed to legislation supported by Grassley, the Speak Out Act, which would prohibit the enforcement of non-disclosure agreements when workers report sexual misconduct.
“If the allegations are false, as Mike Franken claims, then there is no reason to prevent his staff from speaking freely so Iowans can determine for themselves what is credible,” she said.