In a story published on Thursday morning, Los Angeles news anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken of sexual misconduct while on an overseas trip more than a decade ago.
In the article, which was headlined, “Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, And There’s Nothing Funny About It,” Tweeden describes a 2006 USO tour in which she and Franken, then a working comedian, were both participants. On the trip, she said Franken insisted the two “rehearse” the embrace for a sketch they planned to perform during the tour, and forcefully kissed her without her consent.
She wrote on KABC:
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.
Not long after, I performed the skit as written, carefully turning my head so he couldn’t kiss me on the lips.
No one saw what happened backstage. I didn’t tell the Sergeant Major of the Army, who was the sponsor of the tour. I didn’t tell our USO rep what happened.
Tweeden also described the shock she felt when she discovered a photograph of Franken pantomiming groping her breasts as she lay asleep—dressed in fatigues and kevlar—during the flight from Afghanistan back to the United States.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep.” Tweeden wrote. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
Tweeden’s accusations come as more and more women step forward to share their experiences with harassment and sexual assault at the hands of powerful men in politics, Hollywood, and the media. Her allegations against Franken prompted many to demand his immediate resignation from the U.S. Senate, with some claiming he should be scrutinized with as much intensity as Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore, who is accused of assaulting and raping a number of teenage girls as young as 14 in the 1970s.
In a statement, Franken responded to Tweeden’s account to apologize:
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.
A short while later, Franken released a longer statement where he directly addressed the photo.
“I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse,” the senator said. “I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself.”
Within an hour of Tweeden’s allegations being published, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who waited five full days to drop the murky “if true” qualifier when addressing the allegations against Moore—demanded a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into Franken’s behavior, saying in a statement:
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.
The allegations against Franken came as a surprise to many who view the Minnesota senator as progressive ally. Just one month ago, Franken forcefully spoke out in support of the women accusing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of assault and rape.
“It takes a lot of courage to come forward,” Franken at the time. “And we owe them our thanks.”