A news anchor in California came forward in a blog post Thursday to claim that US Senator Al Franken forcefully kissed her and groped her without her consent during a 2006 USO tour.
Leeann Tweeden, a current radio anchor and former television broadcaster and model, said she was on the tour to serve as an emcee but agreed to act in a skit prepared by the former comedian, which included a kiss.
When Franken, who is now the junior Democratic senator representing Minnesota, insisted the two rehearse the kiss, she said he became aggressive:
“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,” Tweeden 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. 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.”
Following the incident, which Tweeden recounted to others but did not report to the USO, she said Franken’s treatment of her deteriorated.
On the flight back to the United States, Tweeden said Franken smiled for a camera as he groped her breasts while she slept. Tweeden said she didn’t know of the incident until she saw the photo after the tour had ended.
“I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?” she wrote.
In a statement on Thursday, Franked apologized to Tweeden as well as to his supporters and constituents.
“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,” he said in the statement.
Franken said he now feels “disgusted” with himself for groping Tweeden in the photo, but reiterated an earlier statement that he doesn’t recall the kissing incident the way Tweeden described it.
But, he said, “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
Franken’s new remarks came in the hours after he released an initial statement to several media outlets that some, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, called insufficient.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell quickly called for an ethics investigation Thursday.
In a statement, McConnell said that ‘‘with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter.’’
‘‘Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable in the workplace or anywhere else,” McConnell said, according to the Associated Press.
Franken said he would cooperate in any ethics investigation.
The recent surge of women coming forward to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal inspired her to speak out, she wrote.
“I’m telling my story because there may be others,” Tweeden wrote. “I want the days of silence to be over forever.”