A news anchor on Thursday accused Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of forcibly kissing her and groping her while she was asleep in an act documented by a photographer in 2006, before he ran for office.
Leeann Tweeden, a morning anchor on Los Angeles station KABC, said she was part of a United Service Organizations (USO) tour in 2006 to entertain troops stationed in the Middle East. At the time, Tweeden said, she was “a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy,” and did not expect to play a large part in the performance.
Tweeden wrote in an essay for KABC that it was her ninth time on such a tour, which Franken, then a comedian, headlined. Tweeden said she agreed to play a part in one of Franken’s skits.
“When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’. I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd,” she wrote.
According to Tweeden, Franken insisted on rehearsing the kiss backstage, and “continued to insist” over her protestations until she agreed so he would stop “badgering” 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. “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 said nobody saw the incident, and that she did not tell the tour’s sponsor or the USO rep involved. She said she never “had a voluntary conversation” with Franken again and avoided being alone with him for the remainder of the tour. Franken responded with “petty insults,” according to Tweeden.
On the plane ride home to Los Angeles, Tweeden wrote, she “immediately fell asleep” after takeoff, exhausted after the tour.
“It wasn’t until I was back in the US and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one,” she wrote.
In the photograph, included in Tweeden’s piece, Franken is looking directly into the camera and grinning. He is reaching toward Tweeden’s chest. Tweeden’s eyes are closed, and the person sitting next to her also appears to be asleep.
— Leeann Tweeden (@LeeannTweeden) November 16, 2017
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden wrote. “I told my husband everything that happened and showed him the picture.”
Franken apologized to Tweeden in a statement obtained by TPM: “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.”
In a second statement Thursday afternoon, Franken offered a fuller apology.
“The first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry,” he said. “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.”
He asked for an ethics investigation into himself and said he will “gladly cooperate” with such a probe.
“The fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed,” Franken said. “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.”
Tweeden said she is “still angry” about what she says Franken did.
“Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour,” she wrote. “Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
This post has been updated.