WASHINGTON – A female radio host and former model accused on Thursday Al Franken, the United States’ junior senator from Minnesota, of kissing her without her consent and groping her breasts while they were working together more than a decade ago.
Franken responded immediately in a written statement, saying he was sorry for his actions during a 2006 United Service Organizations (USO) tour and calling for a Senate ethics investigation into his behavior.
Leeann Tweeden, 44, used a blog post to level the accusations against Franken, who was a well-known comedian – but not yet a senator – when the two were part of a tour to entertain US troops in the Middle East.
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” Tweeden wrote on the Web site of her employer, Los Angeles radio station KABC. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.”
Tweeden, who did not call on Franken to resign and did not weigh in on whether the Senate should investigate him, said there might be another female victim.
“I’ve gotten a phone call from a woman that has – I’ve only gotten a message – that says something similar has happened to her. And I haven’t returned it yet. So that’s to be determined. I don’t know,” Tweeden said in a subsequent press conference.
During the tour, Franken wrote a sketch in which his character and Tweeden’s were to kiss and insisted upon rehearsing the scene.
“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,” she wrote.
“All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth,” she said. “I felt disgusted and violated.”
In a separate incident during the entertainers’ flight back to the US on a military transport plane, Franken posed for a photo in which he appears to grope Tweeden’s breasts while she is sleeping.
The 66-year-old Franken, who was first elected to the Senate in 2008 and re-elected in 2014 for a second six-year term, apologized for his actions in a statement.
“The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent,” he wrote.
While he said there was no excuse for the photo, he said he had a different recollection concerning the rehearsal of the sketch.
“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,” Franken wrote.
“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
The accusation against Franken comes amid a slew of sexual allegations against powerful men, including prominent Hollywood figures and the Republican candidate in an upcoming Senate election in Alabama, Roy Moore.
US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican Party heavyweights are calling on Moore to pull out of the race for the seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions, now the US attorney general.
Moore, a 70-year-old former judge who is running for the Alabama Senate seat in a special Dec. 12 election, has been accused by five women of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s.
Moore has denied the allegations.