Al Franken Accused of Groping, Forcibly Kissing Broadcaster Leeann Tweeden
Broadcaster Leeann Tweeden accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of groping her breasts and forcibly kissing her while the two were on a USO Tour in 2006.
Tweeden posted her account of what occurred on the KABC website, where she now works.
Tweeden said she and Franken - a comedian and former "SNL" performer - were performing for U.S. service members in Afghanistan in Dec. 2006 along with country music singers.
She said he performed a comedy routine for the mostly male audience which often included sexually suggestive jokes.
— Leeann Tweeden (@LeeannTweeden) November 16, 2017
Tweeden said Franken wrote a skit in which he and Tweeden would kiss and insisted on rehearsing it off-stage.
He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.
He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.
I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.
I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.
I felt disgusted and violated.
On the flight home on a military cargo plane, Tweeden said she fell asleep and Franken groped her breasts over a Kevlar vest in front of military members.
He posed for a photo and smiled as he did it. Tweeden said she later saw the photo in a disc from the tour provided by a photographer.
I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep.
I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.
How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?
I told my husband everything that happened and showed him the picture.
Tweeden said she wanted to go public immediately, but stayed silent due to "potential backlash and damage going public might have on my career as a broadcaster."
"But that was then, this is now. I’m no longer afraid," she wrote.
In response, Franken said in a statement, "I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."
Tweeden, a model and sportscaster, said she was inspired to tell the story by another member of Congress, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who appeared recently on KABC's "McIntyre in the Morning" radio show.
"She told us her story of being sexually assaulted when she was a young Congressional aide," Tweeden wrote of Speier.
"She described how a powerful man in the office where she worked 'held her face, kissed her and stuck his tongue in her mouth.' At that moment, I thought to myself, Al Franken did that exact same thing to me."
Franken has been a vocal critic of others accused of sexually inappropriate behavior, praising the #MeToo social media campaign last month by saying "sexual harassment and violence are unacceptable.”
We must address sexual harassment. Reforming arbitration laws will ensure survivors can seek justice in court. https://t.co/Rmuz4gnie7
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) October 11, 2017
Franken later released a more detailed statement:
The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine—is: I'm sorry.
I respect women. I don't respect men who don't. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and leading Senate Democrats called for an ethics investigation of Franken over Tweeden's claims.
"As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter. I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this. Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable - in the workplace or anywhere else," McConnell said.
Franken backed the idea on Thursday and said he'd "gladly cooperate." The allegations by Tweeden predate Franken's Senate career. He was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2014.
The allegations against Franken come amid the continuing controversy surrounding Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.
The former judge has been accused of pursuing sexual relationships with several teen girls, one as young as 14, when he was in his early 30s.
Moore has steadfastly denied the allegations and resisted calls from Republican leaders to end his campaign.
On her show last night, Laura Ingraham interviewed a former Capitol Hill staffer who said she was blackballed after she complained about inappropriate behavior by a congressman.
Ingraham also called for an investigation of a little-known Congressional fund that has paid out $15.2 million to sexual harassment victims or accusers over the past few years.
UPDATE, 2:45pm ET: Tweeden spoke out on her allegations in an interview and news conference Thursday and responded to Franken's apology.
In an interview with Fox 11, Tweeden described how Franken insisted they practice a kiss during rehearsal.
"He came at me and before I even knew it, he put his hand on the back of my head and came towards me and mashed my face against my mouth and stuck his tongue in my mouth," Tweeden said. "I sort of pushed him back and I said, 'Don't ever do that to me again. I was so angry and I walked out of there."