Franken faces ethics probe af­ter woman claims he groped her

Sen­a­tor apol­o­gizes af­ter ra­dio an­chor ac­cuses ex-co­me­dian of 2006 in­ci­dents

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Matthew Daly and Juliet Lin­der­man Staff writer Martha Ross con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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.

CREIGHTON HOLUB U.S. ARMY VIA AP

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.

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