(KMSP) - Leeann Tweeden, morning news anchor on TalkRadio 790 KABC in Los Angeles, says she was “kissed and groped” by Sen. Al Franken during a USO Tour trip to the Middle East in December 2006. Tweeden shared her story in a 1,200 word article for KABC.com.
Tweeden said then-comedian and now-Senator Franken was the headliner for the show. He had written some skits and brought along some props, and “like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.”
When Tweeden read the script, she noticed Franken had written a scene in which his character "comes at her for a kiss,” and assumed she could turn her head at the last minute and draw some laughs from the crowd.
“We need to rehearse the kiss,” Franken allegedly told her – a comment she laughed off.
Tweeden said they rehearsed the lines up to the kiss, at which point she says 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 said she pushed Franken away and walked away from him, seeking a bathroom “to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.”
“I felt disgusted and violated,” Tweeden wrote.
Tweeden still joined Franken on stage, performing the skit and turning her head so he couldn't kiss her on stage. No one witnessed what happened backstage and Tweeden didn’t report the incident to Sergeant Major of the Army or the USO rep. She said she “didn’t want to cause trouble,” but told a few of the other people on the tour what happened.
Tweeden said she made sure she was never alone with Franken again on the tour, but said he “repaid me with petty insults,” including drawing devil horns on one the photos she autographed for the troops.
In her KABC.com article, Tweeden posted a photo that she says shows a moment she was passed out from exhaustion of the tour, still wearing her flak vest and Kevlar helmet.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden wrote. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.”
Sen. Franken provided a brief initial statement to Fox 9 on Thursday: "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." That statement was followed by a much longer statement of apology (below).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Thursday called for an Ethics Committee review of the allegations against Franken. This comes as Senate Republicans have called for Alabama Republican candidate Roy Moore to drop out in the wake of allegations he sexually assaulted two women decades ago.
"Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable-- in the workplace or anywhere else," McConnell said.
Tweeden wanted to go public with what happened, but like many of the victims who have come forward with sexual harassment allegations from Hollywood, politics and business, she was worried about the potential damage to her career growth.
“But that was then, this is now. I’m no longer afraid.”
Tweeden said a turning point was having California Congresswoman Jackie Speier on her morning show. During the broadcast, Speier told us her story of being sexually assaulted when she was a young Congressional aide.
“At that moment, I thought to myself, Al Franken did that exact same thing to me,” Tweeden wrote.
“…Someday, I thought to myself, I would tell my story. That day is now. Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
Read Tweeden’s story at http://www.kabc.com/2017/11/16/leeann-tweeden-on-senator-al-franken/
Full statement from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota)
“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.”
Statement from Sen. Amy Klobuchar
“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.”
Minnesota governor defers to Senate Ethics Committee
If Sen. Franken were to resign, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton would appoint a replacement. Thursday morning, Gov. Dayton released the following statement:
“I was shocked to hear these reports this morning. I will defer to the US Senate Ethics Committee to investigate and act on this matter. I know from serving in the Senate that the Committee has a well-established and highly-respected process for reviewing situations like this and making the right decisions.”