A number of congressional colleagues of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced that they would donate contributions from his political action committee to charities in the wake of allegations that he groped and kissed a model without her consent during a 2006 USO tour.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) were among the Democrats who announced that they would donate the contributions to non-profits.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Franken’s Midwest Values PAC had distributed $25,500 to 2018 House candidates and $115,000 to Senate candidates, all Democrats.
Franken apologized on Thursday after a model-turned-newscaster wrote a post on KABC Radio’s website that claimed he kissed her and groped her without her consent as they were on a USO tour. Franken was not a senator at the time, but in the hours after the story broke, he called for an ethics investigation of himself. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also called for an ethics investigation.
Democratic lawmakers, including Franken, shed contributions they received from Harvey Weinstein last month after multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault first surfaced against the movie mogul.
The Weinstein scandal triggered nationwide attention to the issue, going well beyond Hollywood to other industry sectors, to statehouses and, more recently, to Capitol Hill. This week, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) testified at a House hearing that she knows of two lawmakers who have been accused of sexual harassment or are known for their inappropriate conduct, although she declined to name them.
The newscaster who wrote about Franken, Leeann Tweeden, said that she was inspired to come forward in part by Speier’s stories of being sexually assaulted when she worked as a congressional aide.
“A few weeks ago, we had California Congresswoman Jackie Speier on the show and she told us her story of being sexually assaulted when she was a young Congressional aide,” Tweeden wrote. “She described how a powerful man in the office where she worked ‘held her face, kissed her and stuck his tongue in her mouth.’
“At that moment, I thought to myself, Al Franken did that exact same thing to me.”
Tweeden wrote that Franken kissed her and stuck his tongue down her throat in what he claimed was rehearsal for a skit. She later discovered a photo from the tour in which Franken appears to be putting his hands on her breasts as she was sleeping. She posted the photo to her KABC story.
Tweeden appeared on CNN on Thursday, and told host Jake Tapper that she did accept Franken’s apology. Franken issued a short apology and a lengthier statement later in the day.
“That one did seem heartfelt, and I believe it and I believe him,” she said, adding that she “wasn’t waiting for an apology from him, but I gladly accept it.”
In the statement, Franken said, “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.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the senior senator from Franken’s home state, said that “this should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden. I strongly condemn this behavior and the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation. This is another example of why we need to change work environments and reporting practices across the nation, including in Congress.”
Klobuchar sponsored a resolution that passed the Senate last week that requires members and their staffs to go through sexual harassment training.
Franken, a former comedy writer and radio host, was elected to the Senate after narrowly winning his seat following a recount of the 2008 election results. He was reelected in 2014.