Radio Host Accuses Franken of Forcible Kissing, Groping on 2006 USO Trip; Franken Apologizes

"How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?"

Radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden says that Sen. Al Franken kissed her against her will and later groped her while she was asleep on a USO tour in 2006, before he was a senator.

Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, issued two statements of apology, the second much lengthier than the first, and Tweeden accepted it at a news conference, where she said she was motivated to come forward with her story of sexual misconduct thanks to other women in politics sharing theirs. Read Franken's statements in full here.

"I remember I almost punched him," Tweeden said at the news conference, "because every time I see him now my hands clench into fists."

Tweeden made the allegation, which includes a photo that shows Franken putting his hands over her chest, in an article on KABC radio published Thursday. She said the two incidents occurred separately on a tour to visit U.S. troops in the Middle East, one during rehearsal for a skit Franken wrote, the other on as she slept on the plane back to the U.S. on Christmas Eve.

Tweeden, a former model and TV sports reporter who now anchors a morning news radio show in Los Angeles, said she didn't know about the groping until a photographer gave her a CD that included the photo.

"I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep," she wrote. "I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it's funny?"

The first incident took place while they were alone backstage as Tweeden and Franken rehearsed a skit that Franken wrote, Tweeden said in the post. He insisted that they kiss, Tweeden said, even when she said she didn't want to. 

"He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss," Tweeden wrote "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."

She said she was "disgusted and violated" by the incident but performed the kiss — turning her head away for the kiss part of the skit — and did not tell anyone on the tour about it.

She also said she avoided him for the rest of the tour, while Franken, then a well-known comedian but not yet an elected official, would make "petty insults" about her.

Then, while they were flying home on a C-17 cargo plane from Afghanistan, she fell asleep wearing her protective vest. A photographer later gave her a CD of photos that included a photo were Franken has his hands over Tweeden's chest, smiling at the camera.

Franken's first statement indicated that he believes the skit rehearsal went differently: "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."

In a second, lengthier statement on matter, Franken said sorry to Tweeden, his supporters and others, and added that he wants an ethics investigation and would cooperate with it.

"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 said.

Read both of Franken's statements in full.

Asked about Franken's apology, Tweeden said she accepted it.

"Sure, I accept it, yes. I mean, people make mistakes," she said. But she also noted that he had a chance to apologize when they saw each other at a USO gala since the incident took place.

Franken's apology came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for an ethics investigation into Franken, saying "harassment and assault" unacceptable.

Several of Franken's fellow Senate Democrats have also come down on the side of investigating Franken.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stopped short of saying Franken should step aside but called the allegations disturbing and worthy of investigation. Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth said, "I believe her, and if there's an ethics investigation, that should move forward as well."

Tweeden said she remains angry at Franken for what happened, and that she is coming forward now in part due to the recent movement to address the silence around sexual harassment and assaults in Hollywood, Washington and beyond.

"I wanted to shout my story to the world with a megaphone to anyone who would listen, but even as angry as I was, I was worried about the potential backlash and damage going public might have on my career as a broadcaster," Tweeden wrote, noting she told her boyfriend, who is now her husband.

"But that was then, this is now. I'm no longer afraid," she added, citing a recent statement from Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., that she was sexually assaulted many years ago by a powerful man in a congressional office where she worked as an aide.

Tweeden's sexual misconduct allegation is the latest to hit Washington, where many Republicans have urged their party's candidate for a special election to fill one of Alabama's U.S. Senate seats, Roy Moore, to step aside amid several claims he committed sexual misconduct with young women decades ago, which he's contested.

And several women in Congress have come forward this week to discuss sexual harassment having taken place in the Capitol over the years.

"There are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, who serve right now who have been subject to review, or not been subject to review, that have engaged in sexual harassment," Speier said at a hearing Tuesday.

She did not name them.

President Donald Trump broke his silence on the sexual misconduct late Thursday night, tweeting: "The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"

Last month, Franken addressed the slew of sexual misconduct allegations that have been against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — a representative has repeatedly denied allegations of non-consensual sex — saying in a Facebook post that the women who spoke up "are incredibly brave."

He added that "it's important to remember that while his behavior was appalling, it's far too common."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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