ST. PAUL, Minn. — A woman said Thursday that Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken groped her and kissed her without her consent in 2006 while she was on a USO Tour overseas.
Leeann Tweeden is now a morning news anchor on TalkRadio 790 KABC in Los Angeles and posted her story in a lengthy post on the station’s website.
The incidents happened before Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008 and was seated in 2009 following a recount.
Tweeden described the harassment as being part of a script for a USO skit where Franken wrote where he’s supposed to kiss her. She writes that Franken repeatedly insisted they rehearse the kissing scene despite her protests. When she relented, Franken, “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
“Senator Franken, you wrote the script,” Tweeden wrote. “But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
She also included a photo in which Franken appears to grabbing Tweeden’s breast while she’s asleep.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden writes. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.”
In a statement to reporters, Franken said he doesn’t remember the forced kissing, but said he shouldn’t have conducted his behavior as he did in the photo.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Franken released a longer statement several hours after his initial one, where he described a lengthier apology and said he “didn’t know what” was in his head when he took the actions in the photo.
“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,” Franken said in the email statement.
He continued, “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.”
Franken continued to say he didn’t remember the exact actions of the rehearsal skit, but added, “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
At a news conference, Tweeden was asked if she accepted Franken’s apology.
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t accept his apology,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for anything.”
Tweeden also recounted her 2006 encounter with Franken during the news conference, describing in detail the moment in which Franken kissed her.
She said he stuck his tongue in her mouth “so fast.”
“All I could remember is that his lips were really wet and it was slimy. In my mind I called him fish lips the rest of the trip because that’s what it reminded me of,” she said.
Tweeden said she “pushed” Franken off, and that she almost punched him.
“I pushed him off with my hands, I just remember I almost punched him … Every time I see him now, my hands clench into fists,” she said.
After the incident, which Tweeden said she did not report at the time, she said she made sure she was never alone with Franken again.
Asked whether she believes Franken should step down, Tweeden said that “people make mistakes.”
“I’m not calling on him to step down,” she said. “That’s not my place.” However, she added that her opinion may change if other women come forward with similar allegations.
The comments about Franken come at a time when Congress is conducting a review of its policy for addressing sexual harassment and how it handles complaints. The House held a hearing on the issue earlier this week, and both chambers have now required mandatory sexual harassment training. The changes to Capitol Hill follow the ground-shaking allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have swept industries, organizations and institutions worldwide.
Franken acknowledged that cultural change in his revised statement.
“Over the last few months, all of us — including and especially men who respect women — have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women,” Franken said.
Tweeden said she’s coming forward now after hearing testimony from women — including California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier — who have shared similar stories of men in power who have committed sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“I want to have the same effect on them that Congresswoman Jackie Speier had on me,” Tweeden wrote. “I want them, and all the other victims of sexual assault, to be able to speak out immediately, and not keep their stories –and their anger– locked up inside for years, or decades.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said the issue should be referred to the ethics committee.
“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,” McConnell said in a written statement. “Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable—in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Franken said he would cooperate with the committee’s investigation.
The allegations have already been injected into politics, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee tying senators running for re-election to Franken and the National Republican Campaign Committee demanding that Democratic candidates who had received campaign money from Franken to return those donations.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the highest ranking woman in the Democratic Senate leadership said Franken’s apology “doesn’t reverse what he’s done or end the matter”.
Murray said, “This is unacceptable behavior and extremely disappointing. I am glad Al came out and apologized, but that doesn’t reverse what he’s done or end the matter. I support an ethics committee investigation into these accusations, and I hope this latest example of the deep problems on this front spurs continued action to address it. ”
Franken mentioned Tweeden on the Senate floor in September 2010 and called her a “beautiful woman” during a speech about his past USO tours and the jokes he would tell regarding the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“And during the show I would, I was kind of co-host with a beautiful woman named Leeann Tweeden, and we’d do comedy routines, we’d introduce music, we’d introduce cheerleaders,” Franken said. “I’d go out and do a monologue, and this is something I would do, I’ve done for a number of years, and I’d go out and I would say, you know, I’ve done now seven USO tours and every year I’m just more and more impressed with the US military, except one thing I do not get, it’s the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) issued this statement:
“I agree with Senator McConnell that the Ethics Committee should review this matter. What Senator Franken did is wrong and regardless of political party, sexual harassment and sexual abuse are unacceptable.”
Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) issued this statement:
“It’s clear there are far too many instances of this type of behavior all across America. We need to find a way to put a stop to it and ensure those who have engaged in sexual misconduct are held accountable.”