Al Franken Apologizes After Being Accused of Groping, Kissing Radio Host Without Consent

Sen. Al Franken apologized on Thursday after TV and radio host Leeann Tweeden accused him of groping and kissing her without her consent in 2006.

Tweeden, who works on “McIntyre in the Morning” on KABC/790 AM, detailed the alleged encounter in an essay on the Los Angeles radio station’s website.

The former model said the two were practicing a skit while working together during a USO tour of the Middle East when the then-comedian insisted on rehearsing a kiss from the sketch, despite Tweeden’s refusal. Tweeden said practicing the bit was unnecessary as she had planned to deny his advances on stage (“I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd”).

“He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable,” Tweeden wrote. “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.”

Tweeden also posted a photo of what appears to be a grinning Franken cupping Tweeden’s breasts while she’s asleep, wearing a vest and helmet. She said the photo was taken without her knowledge on the plane ride home to Los Angeles.

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

Franken, a former “Saturday Night Live” star who was elected to the Senate in 2009, apologized for the incident in a statement obtained by Variety. However, he said Tweeden’s account did not match his recollection of the encounter.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Franken later released a lengthier statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for an ethics committee investigation of the Minnesota senator in light of the accusation.

“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.”

Tweeden said she didn’t come forward before for fear of the potential backlash and damage to her career as a broadcaster.

“I’m no longer afraid,” she wrote.

She concluded the essay with a message to Franken.

“Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault,” she said. “You wrote the scene that would include you kissing me and then relentlessly badgered me into ‘rehearsing’ the kiss with you backstage when we were alone.”

“You knew exactly what you were doing,” Tweeden added. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed.”

Read Franken’s full statement below.

“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.

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.

But I want to say something else, too. 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.

For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.

Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.

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.

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.”

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