WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., apologized to a radio anchor and model after she released a photo that appeared to show him grabbing her chest and looking toward the camera on a flight back from Afghanistan.
Leeann Tweeden wrote in a blog post Thursday that Franken “mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth” during a rehearsal for a skit the pair were performing for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2006. Tweeden told Franken she didn’t want to rehearse the kiss, but he insisted, Tweeden wrote.
“I felt disgusted and violated,” she said.
Later, on their flight home, Franken posed for a photo of himself with his hands over Tweeden’s chest as she slept. Tweeden posted the photo on the website of KABC Radio in Los Angeles, where she now works.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said in a short statement Thursday morning. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Shortly after Franken’s apology, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement he would ask the Senate Ethics Committee to look into the allegations, and several of Franken’s Democratic colleagues, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told reporters they believed there should be an investigation. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., called Franken’s behavior “unacceptable” and also backed an investigation.
Later Thursday afternoon, Franken released a longer statement apologizing for his behavior and saying he was “ashamed” and “disgusted” with himself for taking that picture.
“It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate,” Franken said. “It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture.”
He said the wave of harassment allegations over the past few months have caused him and other men to reexamine their actions that may have demeaned women, and for Franken to realize that some of the jokes he made when he was in the comedy world were not funny. He praised women for coming forward to tell their stories of harassment and said he was their “ally.”
“I have let them down, and I’m committed to making it up to them,” Franken said.
Franken called for an ethics investigation into himself and said he would cooperate.
Franken reiterated that he did not remember the unwanted kiss that Tweeden described, however.
“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences,” Franken said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also backed an ethics investigation:
Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated.
I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) November 16, 2017
None of Franken’s colleagues on either side of the aisle have suggested that the senator should resign.
In a press conference, Tweeden said she accepted Franken’s apology and was not asking him to step down at the moment. “People make mistakes,” she said. “I’m not calling for him to step down.”
“People make mistakes. I’m not calling for him to step down. That’s not my place to say that,” Tweeden said.
Last month, Franken posted on Facebook about the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, writing of the accusers, “it takes a lot of courage to come forward, and we owe them our thanks.”
Franken is a popular figure on the left, and his aggressive questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in appearances in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about contacts with Russia resulted in Sessions correcting his testimony. Franken has been rumored to have presidential aspirations for 2020.
The allegations come as senators on both sides of the aisle are condemning Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, a Republican, amid accusations from multiple women that he pursued relationships with teenagers as young as 14 when he was a district attorney in his 30s. At least two women have said he assaulted them then.
Franken’s fellow Democratic senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, was the lead sponsor on recently passed legislation to mandate sexual harassment training for senators and aides.
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