Updated, 5 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has been accused of sexual misconduct by a Los Angeles radio host, who said Franken kissed her roughly and groped her in 2006 without her consent. Franken has since supported calls that he be subjected to an ethics investigation.
“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,” Franken said in a statement. “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.”
Leeann Tweeden, an anchor with 790 KABC in Los Angeles, said she and Franken were on a USO tour to the Middle East in 2006 to entertain troops with a group of performers. Franken, who was headlining the tour, had written skits, one of which called for a kiss between her and Franken and which Franken insisted they rehearse before a performance.
“I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me,” Tweeden wrote in a piece published this morning on KABC.com. “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.
“I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”
Tweeden also shared a photo in which Franken appears to grope her breasts while she slept on a flight back to the U.S. She said she had discovered the photo on a CD of images provided by a photographer on the tour.
First elected in 2008, Franken has enjoyed broad name recognition thanks to a previous career as a writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live” and as the author of several books. The accusation now places him among the ranks of numerous, high-profile men who have been accused of sexual misconduct of varying severity in recent months, from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to Senate hopeful Roy Moore of Alabama.
Franken has faced a response from lawmakers within his own state, including U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who supports an ethics investigation, and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who said “the account and photo released today can only be described as completely inappropriate.”
The senator issued an initial Thursday morning statement in which he said he didn’t recall the skit rehearsal in the same way, but offered his “sincerest apologies” to Tweeden. The photo, he said, he regrets.
In a second statement issued shortly afterward, Franken offered apologies to Tweeden, members of the USO tour, his staff and “everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women,” and requested an ethics investigation into the matter.
Many on Capitol Hill were swift to condemn Franken’s actions as news broke. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Franken’s Democratic colleague from Minnesota, said “this should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden.”
“I strongly condemn this behavior and the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This is another example of why we need to change work environments and reporting practices across the nation, including in Congress.”
Support for an investigation has come from politicians from around the country. Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the chamber’s minority and majority leaders, respectively, are among them.
The question of Franken’s political future is uncertain, with some speculating he may resign as a result. It also invites comparisons to a cold reception senators have given Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with women as young as 14.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has previously called on Moore to drop out of the race. Though some have raised the possibility of expelling Moore, should he win his December special election, Hoeven said he would not “speculate” on anything after the election itself.
“Any type of sexual assault or sexual harassment is unacceptable, and the Senate Ethics Committee should review Senator Franken’s behavior,” Hoeven said on Twitter on Thursday.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has been outspoken this fall about sexual harassment and the charged or dangerous situations women often face. On Thursday, she condemned Franken’s actions and supported a call for an ethics investigation on Twitter.
“As a general matter, we have been far too tolerant and dismissive of past allegations. We are now seeing a sea change that is very important,” Heitkamp said in the statement. “All of us must move forward together to prevent these actions, and when they do happen, empower women to speak out and impose appropriate consequences.”
Heitkamp’s office referred a Herald request for comment on Franken and Moore to the statement Heitkamp had issued on Twitter. In a separate post, Heitkamp also said she would give contributions Franken made to her campaign to a Bismarck-area United Way chapter.