Franken faces ethics probe after woman claims he groped her
Senator apologizes after radio anchor accuses ex-comedian of 2006 incidents
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken faces a storm of criticism and a likely ethics investigation after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him Thursday of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour. He is the first member of Congress caught up in the recent wave of allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior.
Franken apologized, but the criticism only grew through the day. Fellow Democrats swiftly condemned his actions, mindful of the current climate as well as the prospect of political blowback.
Republicans, still forced to answer for the multiple allegations facing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, also pressed for an investigation. Franken said he would welcome it.
Leeann Tweeden posted her allegations, including a photo of Franken and her, on the website of KABC, where she works as a news anchor for a morning ra- dio show. The photo shows Franken posing in a joking manner, smiling at the camera with his hands on her chest as she naps wearing a flak vest aboard amilitary plane. Both had been performing for military personnel in Afghanistan two years before the onetime “Saturday Night Live” comedian was elected to the Senate.
Tweeden said Thursday that before an earlier show Franken had persisted in rehearsing a kiss and “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” Now, she said, “every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry.” She’s angry with herself, too, she said, for not speaking out at the time “but I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
Franken, 66, is the latest public figure to be caught in the deluge of revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have crushed careers, ruined reputations and prompted criminal investigations in Hollywood, business and beyond. The swift rebukes from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers suggest that momentum from the online #Metoo movement has begun to spur a culture shift on Capitol Hill, where current and former staffers say misogynistic and predatory behavior has long been an open secret.
In a statement, Franken apologized to Tweeden and his constituents while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently. Tweeden said she accepted his apology.
“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,” Franken wrote.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” Franken added. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt thatmakes me feel ashamed.”
Of the photo, Franken said: “I look at it now, and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate.”
The accusations come just days after the Senate unanimously adopted mandatory sexual harassment training for members and staffs amid a flood of sto- ries about harassment, sexualmisconduct and gender hostility from staffers, aides and female elected officials.
Other charges also were made against Franken.
Melanie Morgan, a longtime Bay Area conservative radio anchor, claimed that she was harassed with phone calls by Franken in 2000, following a contentious debate on Bill Maher’s ABC late-night show “Politically Incorrect.”
Morgan, a former host on conservative talk station KSFO, made the allegations on Media Equalizer, a blog she co-founded. She said the harassment consisted of Franken aggressively trying to continue the argument off air and repeatedly calling her personal phone number to “badger” her.
She said that she made a statement about OMB budget numbers, and Franken challenged her. “I challenged him back,” she said. “It was about spending priorities, actually just a mundane discussion. But he obsessed over it.” Once the show wrapped, Morgan said Franken wouldn’t leave her alone and insisted on continuing to argue.
“He approached me backstage, angrily called me out on those numbers and insisted he would prove he was right,” she said. “He wouldn’t leave me alone, he kept following me. As a woman, his presence and proximity to me felt very threatening and intimidating.” Also on Thursday: London’s Old Vic Theatre said Thursday it has received 20 allegations of inappropriate behavior by its former artistic director Kevin Spacey, and acknowledged that a “cult of personality” around the Hollywood star had made it difficult for people to come forward.
The London theater launched an investigation into Spacey after claims of sexual harassment emerged in the United States. Spacey, 58, led the Old Vic between 2004 and 2015.
All the alleged victims are young men, none under 18 years old. The reported incidents took place between 1995 and 2013.
During a comic skit at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 16, 2006, Al Franken, then a comedian, performs with sports commentator Leeann Tweeden during the USO Sergeant Major of the Army’s 2006Hope and Freedom Tour. On Thursday, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., apologized after Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing her during the 2006USO tour.