A woman accused Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken on Thursday of groping her and kissing her without her consent in 2006 while she was on a USO Tour overseas.
Leeann Tweeden is now a morning news anchor on TalkRadio 790 KABC in Los Angeles and posted her story in a lengthy post on the station’s website.
The alleged incidents happened before Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008 and was seated in 2009 following a recount.
Tweeden described the harassment as being part of a script for a USO skit where Franken wrote where he’s supposed to kiss her. She writes that Franken repeatedly insisted they rehearse the kissing scene despite her protests. When she relented, Franken, “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
“Senator Franken, you wrote the script,” Tweeden wrote. “But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
She also included a photo in which Franken appears to grabbing Tweeden’s breast while she’s asleep.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden writes. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.”
CNN has reached out to Tweeden and she’s expected to speak Thursday with CNN.
The post does not address whether Franken was reached out to for comment in advance of publishing and includes no comment from Franken or his office.
In a statement to reporters, Franken said he doesn’t remember the forced kissing, but said he shouldn’t have conducted his behavior as he did in the photo.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
He posted a longer statement to his Facebook page, saying in part “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.”
The allegations against Franken come at a time when Congress is conducting a review of its policy for addressing sexual harassment and how it handles complaints. The House held a hearing on the issue earlier this week, and both chambers have now required mandatory sexual harassment training. The changes to Capitol Hill follow the ground-shaking allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have swept industries, organizations and institutions worldwide.
Tweeden said she’s coming forward now after hearing testimony from women — including California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier — who have shared similar stories of men in power who have committed sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“I want to have the same effect on them that Congresswoman Jackie Speier had on me,” Tweeden wrote. “I want them, and all the other victims of sexual assault, to be able to speak out immediately, and not keep their stories –and their anger– locked up inside for years, or decades.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said the issue should be referred to the ethics committee.
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter. I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this,” McConnell said in a written statement. “Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable—in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Franken mentioned Tweeden on the Senate floor in September 2010 and called her a “beautiful woman” during a speech about his past USO tours and the jokes he would tell regarding the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“And during the show I would, I was kind of co-host with a beautiful woman named Leeann Tweeden, and we’d do comedy routines, we’d introduce music, we’d introduce cheerleaders,” Franken said. “I’d go out and do a monologue, and this is something I would do, I’ve done for a number of years, and I’d go out and I would say, you know, I’ve done now seven USO tours and every year I’m just more and more impressed with the US military, except one thing I do not get, it’s the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”