A morning radio anchor claims that Democratic Sen. Al Franken (MN) kissed and groped her without her consent back in 2006.
In a piece published early Thursday morning, KABC radio host Leeann Tweeden wrote that Franken sexually harassed and touched her more than a decade ago while the two were abroad entertaining troops stationed overseas.
“In December of 2006, I embarked on my ninth USO Tour to entertain our troops, my eighth to the Middle East since the 9/11 attacks,” Tweeden wrote. “My father served in Vietnam and my then-boyfriend (and now husband, Chris) is a pilot in the Air Force, so bringing a ‘little piece of home’ to servicemembers stationed far away from their families was both my passion and my privilege.”
According to Tweeden, Franken, who was a comedian at the time and not a lawmaker, headlined the event, which catered to a “young, male audience” and featured skits “full of sexual innuendo.” The comedian reportedly told Tweeden he had written a part specifically for her; upon reviewing the script, she noted a “kiss” was included, something that made her uncomfortable.
Prior to the show, Tweeden said, Franken allegedly insisted they rehearse the kiss, despite Tweeden’s objections. She eventually gave in, after considerable badgering.
“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 wrote.
The experience — which Tweeden wrote left her feeling “disgusted and violated” — prompted her to warn Franken against any similar behavior in the future. When they performed the skit in public, she said she turned her head to the side.
Here’s footage from one of Franken’s United Service Organizations (USO) tours in Afghanistan for context:
After the event, Tweeden said she told no one about the incident and that she “tried to let it go.” But she claimed Franken treated her poorly following that interaction, peppering her with insults and even “drawing devil horns” on one of her headshots at one point.
Tweeden also said that Franken later groped her while posing for a picture — something she only realized after reviewing a CD of trip photos upon her return to the United States, as she had been asleep at the time it was taken.
“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?” Tweeden wrote.
While Tweeden told her then-boyfriend (now-husband) about the incident, she otherwise kept it to herself. It wasn’t until the recent flood of allegations against prominent male figures in Hollywood, media, and politics that Tweeden felt empowered to say anything. After Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) appeared on Tweeden’s show and shared her own experience with assault, the host finally decided to come forward.
“I’m telling my story because there may be others,” Tweeden wrote. “I want to have the same effect on them that Congresswoman Jackie Speier had on me. 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. I want the days of silence to be over forever.”
In an email statement to ThinkProgress and other media outlets on Thursday, the senator, speaking through a spokesperson, offered an apology for the picture incident.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” the statement read. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Franken has previously commended many of his colleagues for stepping forward with their stories of assault and harassment.
Shortly after the news broke, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for an official ethics investigation into the allegations against Franken.
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter,” he said. “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 indicated on Tuesday that if Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is elected he too will face an ethics investigation. Moore has been accused of sexual assault or inappropriate behavior by eight different women, several of whom say Moore pursued them as teenagers.
UPDATE: In a lengthy statement released early Thursday afternoon, Franken apologized for his actions and called for an ethics investigation into his behavior.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
He added, “I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate. And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.”