Woman accuses U.S. Senator Al Franken of unwanted groping, kiss
In this June 21, 2017 file photo, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., listens at a committee hearing at the Capitol in Washington. Franken apologized Thursday after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour and of posing for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept. | Photo Credit: AP
A radio broadcaster accused U.S. Senator Al Franken on Thursday of touching her breasts while she slept and forcing a kiss on her in 2006 when he was still a comedian and the two were preparing to perform before U.S. troops in the Middle East.
Anchor Leeann Tweeden related her experience in a first-person account on the website of Los Angeles station KABC amid outrage over numerous reports of sexual misconduct by powerful men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.
Mr. Franken, a Democrat, issued an apology on Thursday. The Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders called on the Ethics Committee to review the allegations and Mr. Franken said he would cooperate.
Ms. Tweeden said Mr. Franken wrote a skit that included a kiss between the two and said he insisted upon rehearsing it, which she at first resisted.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
She said she pushed Mr. Franken away but felt disgusted and violated.
Ms. Tweeden also said Mr. Franken groped her while she slept during their flight home on a military plane. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated,” Ms. Tweeden wrote. “How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it's funny?"
She posted a photo taken at the time of Mr. Franken mugging for the camera with his hands above her breasts as she sat in the military aircraft wearing a flak jacket with eyes closed.
“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,” Mr. Franken said in a statement.
Reuters was unable to independently verify Ms. Tweeden or Mr. Franken's accounts.
She told reporters in a later press conference that she considered the kiss an assault but accepted his apology.
“The apology? Sure, I accept it,” she said. “People make mistakes and of course he knew he made a mistake.”
U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter, calling the photo “really bad.”
“And to think that just last week he [Franken] was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Mr. Trump himself came under fire last year over alleged sexual misconduct after a decade-old outtake from his appearance on the television program “Access Hollywood” surfaced during the presidential campaign, in which Trump bragged about kissing and grabbing women without their consent.
Mr. Trump later apologized for the “Access Hollywood” comments, which he called “locker room talk.” He told reporters last month that allegations of sexual assault and misconduct leveled at him before the election by several women were “made-up stuff.”
Mr. Franken, in a longer statement issued after his first apology, was more contrite. “I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate,” he said.
The USO, which sponsored the tour on which Mr. Franken and Ms. Tweeden traveled, said it was never aware of the incident.
“This incident was never reported to the USO,” USO spokeswoman Ashley McLellan said in an email. “We have no knowledge of it.