CLEVELAND, Ohio - Bill O'Neill, an Ohio Supreme Court justice and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, apologized a second time on Sunday for a Friday Facebook post laying out his sex life while defending U.S. Sen. Al Franken, saying he harmed the national debate on sexual harassment, assault and rape.
That wasn't without some exception, however. In an interview with cleveland.com, O'Neill - the lone Democrat statewide officeholder - said he was standing by his defense of Franken and didn't think the last three days tarnished his overall career.
He added that those wanting to return his donations should do so to him instead of charity and recommended women who are the target of unwelcome overtures by men should should poke them in the eye.
Sitting Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill, responding to Franken allegations, claims bedding 50 women
O'Neill's original Facebook post described his past sexual encounters with "approximately 50 very attractive females" and quickly went viral, sparking outrage from many on both sides of the aisle and on social media. Critics said the conduct was unbecoming of a sitting Supreme Court justice, with calls for him to both drop out of the governor's race and step down from the bench.
He originally told everyone who was offended to "lighten up."
Bill O'Neill on his sexually-charged Facebook post: 'Lighten up folks'
O'Neill posted an apology on Saturday, but seemed to defend some of his original defenses of both Franken, a Democratic senator from Minnesota who is accused of forcefully kissing a Los Angeles radio host, and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is accused of sexual harassing seven women and molesting a 14-year-old.
On Sunday, he apologized again.
"There comes a time in everyone's life when you have to admit you were wrong," O'Neill wrote on Facebook. "It is Sunday morning and (I) am preparing to go to church and get right with God. But first I have to get right with my family, my friends, and the thousands of strangers who have been hurt by my insensitive remarks."
"I have damaged the national debate on the very real subject of sexual harassment, abuse and unfortunately rape," O'Neill continued. "It is not a laughing matter. It wasn't when I prosecuted sexual misconduct for the State of Ohio, and it is not now."
O'Neill went on to apologize to the women in his family.
"You deserved better treatment than this," O'Neill said. "I love you, respect you, and yes. I was wrong. Thank you for loving me enough to stand up to my departure from a loving life."
O'Neill deleted the original Facebook post about his sex life on Friday. He also deleted his Saturday apology and the post in which he told everyone to lighten up.
In a Sunday interview with cleveland.com, O'Neill said he never expected the original post to go viral.
"Oh, I think this went a lot larger than I ever anticipated," O'Neill said.
"I became a villain overnight. I saw that," he added later.
O'Neill added it was his family members who convinced him to issue the Sunday statement. He deleted the original posts because he thought it was leading to vitriolic comments that weren't helping the debate.
"They said to apologize," he said. "That's the real driving force in my life. When my four women in my life tell me to apologize, it gets things done."
He said the biggest personal loss was that of his campaign manager, Chris Clevenger. Clevenger, a victim of sexual assault who had no prior knowledge of O'Neill's original post, resigned after the judge posted on Facebook.
"Chris was one of the driving forces in crafting the message in Bill for Ohio," O'Neill said. "If I thought I was going to hurt him, it certainly would've changed things."
Bill O'Neill's campaign manager resigns following controversial Facebook post
Clevenger did not immediately have a response.
O'Neill added that he was not apologizing for originally sticking up for Franken.
Leeann Tweeden, the radio host who accused Franken of inappropriate behavior, made her accusations publicly on Thursday. She described Franken forcefully kissing her during a rehearsal for a comedy skit on a 2006 USO tour.
"I felt disgusted and violated," Tweeden wrote.
Tweeden said she pushed Franken away and chastised him. Nobody saw what happened and she did not want to cause concern during a show for troops in a war zone, which is why she didn't tell anyone, she said.
During the rest of the tour, Tweeden said Franken insulted her. She also released a photo of Franken groping her while she was asleep.
"You knew exactly what you were doing," Tweeden wrote, addressing Franken. "You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed."
Franken apologized and Tweeden said she accepted.
"The apology, sure I accept it, yes. People make mistakes and of course he knew he made a mistake," Tweeden said, according to The Hill. "So yes I do accept that apology. There's no reason why I shouldn't accept his apology."
O'Neill said his original defense of Franken wasn't about the interaction between Franken and Tweeden. He said he was referring to the "feeding frenzy" in the press and on social media, attacking Franken. Many have called for Franken to step down.
"What I'm saying is when it does come out, no matter how many years, when the person involved apologizes - therefore accepting the wrongfulness of their act - and the person who is the victim accepts their apology, there is a pattern in America where people say that's not good enough and I'm saying that is good enough," O'Neill said.
O'Neill said he wasn't sure if a forceful kiss during a comedy sketch amounted to a legal definition of assault.
"Honestly, I think if somebody is forcefully kissed and didn't want to kiss, she should poke him in the eye right on the spot," O'Neill said.
O'Neill also criticized politicians who said they would give their donations from Franken to charity. Among those is U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio.
O'Neill said if politicians don't want Franken's money, they should give it back to Franken instead of donating it to charity.
O'Neill said those in the state who have said they'll do the same with his donations, such as fellow Democratic gubernatorial nominee Connie Pillich, should return the money to him as well.
"I didn't send her a contribution to give to a charity of her choice," he said. "I sent her a contribution to help her win."
O'Neill said he gave Pillich money after he entered the race because while he thinks he is the only Democratic candidate who can win the governor's seat, he still supports Pillich.
O'Neill also addressed his defense of Moore, the Alabama Republican running for Senate. Over the last few weeks, young women have accused Moore in media reports of sexually harassing them, including a 14-year-old who said he fondled her genitals through her underwear.
O'Neill, who said the media was about to affect the outcome of a U.S. Senate race, said he was not trying to defend Moore, but still thought he had a right to due process.
Despite the backlash he's received, O'Neill said he is the only Democratic candidate who could win the race to replace term-limited Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich - save for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, who is expected to announce his candidacy later this month.
O'Neill said he will drop out of the race when Cordray enters.
However, he will not step down from the bench, as many said he should do.
"That's not going to happen," O'Neill said.
He said he expected some pushback from his colleagues when he returns to the court on Tuesday.
"I'm sure there will be a slap when I get there on Tuesday, but we'll get back to work after," O'Neill said.
Ohio Supreme Court chief justice condemns Bill O'Neill's Facebook post on sexual escapades
O'Neill is sometimes the focus of news stories on his social media personality. In the past, O'Neill, who is a veteran, has defended Republican President Donald Trump's chief of staff Gen. John Kelly's condemnation of a Democratic congresswoman and criticized the Cleveland Browns for protesting police violence against black people by kneeling during the national anthem.
His Friday comments are by far the most widespread, making national news. But O'Neill said the controversy over his Facebook post would not be a defining feature of his career, which he added isn't over yet.
"The truth is I cost myself three days," he said. "Foolishly."...Read more