The recent rash of accusations of sexual misconduct by high profile men hit Capitol Hill on Thursday, as a radio news anchor from California published a first person account accusing Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of groping her and kissing her without her consent, while the two were part of a USO military entertainment tour in Iraq in late 2006.
While rehearsing a skit backstage, Leanne Tweeden said Franken forcibly kissed her. “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 wrote on the website of KABC Radio in Los Angeles.
“All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth,” saying she “felt disgusted and violated” by what had happened backstage.
The incident occurred in December 2006 at a USO event in Mosul, Iraq, two years before Franken ran for the U.S. Senate, a race that he by just over 300 votes in a closely contested election.
Franken, who routinely avoids reporters in the hallways of Congress, quickly issued a written statement, apologizing to Tweeden.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken stated.
“As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it,” the Minnesota Democrat added.
Tweeden said she especially felt humiliated by a photograph that was included in a review of the USO trip, which showed Tweeden asleep on a plane, and Franken seemingly grabbing, or pretending to grab her breasts.
It was immediately clear that Franken’s apology wasn’t going to end the story, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement asking for a review by the Senate Ethics Committee.
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Facing those calls from both parties for a Senate ethics review, Franken endorsed the idea, saying he would cooperate.
Democrats reacted sternly to the news.
“Deeply disturbing,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has been active on the issue of sexual assault in the military.
Asked if there should be an ethics investigation, Gillibrand instantly said, “Yes, into allegations against any member.”
“Sexual harassment and groping are never okay, they’re never funny,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who said Franken needed to say more about the incident.
“Sexual harassment is never acceptable,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) in a statement. “The Senate Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as I believe they should.”