Franken Responds to Allegations: 'I'm Sorry'

November 16, 2017 10:15 PM

A Los Angeles radio anchor says Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken forcibly kissed her during a 2006 USO tour.

Leeann Tweeden said Franken also posed for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept. That photo was made public and circulated widely as the day went on Thursday.

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Tweeden first accused Franken in an essay on the website of California radio station KABC, where she anchors a morning talk show. Tweeden said Franken wrote a skit for the pair during a USO tour of the Middle East and insisted they practice a kiss during rehearsal. 

Tweeden, who went on to detail her allegations on the radio later in the day, said she tried to resist, but that Franken forced himself on her and stuck his tongue in her mouth. A copy of the photo is posted with the article.

Franken responded to the allegations 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, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine—is: I'm sorry."

In an interview on CNN Thursday afternoon, Tweeden said the apology in Franken's statement seemed sincere.

"I wasn't waiting for an apology from Al Franken," Tweeden said, "but I accept it."

In his statement, Franken also called for an investigation into the allegations: "I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate."

RELATED: Political Leaders React to Allegations Against Franken

RAW VIDEO: Radio Anchor Claims Franken Forcibly Kissed Her During USO Tour

Tweeden detailed her allegations in her story on the KABC website.

"On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time," Tweeden wrote. "He said to me, 'We need to rehearse the kiss.' I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, 'Relax Al, this isn't SNL…we don't need to rehearse the kiss.'

"He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.

"He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said 'OK' so he would stop badgering me. 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."

DIGITAL EXTRA: Political Analyst Breaks Down Franken Allegations

Tweeden wrote she is angry at Franken.

"I'm telling my story because there may be others."

Asked on her radio show Thursday what she wanted from Franken, Tweeden said she'd accept an apology, but said that he knew what he did and has had every opportunity to apologize.

"Look, I'd have been long dead if I held my breath waiting for an apology for him for 11 years, okay," she said. "I've lived my life. I've moved on beyond that and past that. He can apologize if he'd like to, but I don't need anything from Al Franken. I've moved beyond that."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Ethics Committee should review the complaints.

In a statement Thursday, the top Republican said "with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter."

Democratic leader Chuck Schumer also called for an investigation.

"Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable in the workplace or anywhere else," McConnell said.

The statement comes as Senate Republicans, including McConnell, have called for Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore to step aside in the face of multiple allegations of pursuing and harassing women, one as young as 14, decades ago. Moore has dug in, saying the allegations are false.

DIGITAL EXTRA: U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison Reacts to Allegations Against Sen. Al Franken

Speaking at Thursday's White House press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "On Sen. Franken, it appears the Senate is looking into that, which they should, and we feel that is an appropriate action."

President Donald Trump, who himself faced sexual harassment allegations during his presidential run last year, even weighed in on Twitter Thursday night.

"The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words," Trump tweeted. "Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"

Franken is a longtime comedian and "Saturday Night Live" writer who ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate against Republican Norm Coleman in 2008 and was declared the winner after a lengthy recount in 2009. He was re-elected in 2014.

He drew criticism during his first Senate campaign for joking about rape while discussing a sketch idea during his days on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Franken said then that he regretted some of the things he had written, and said he respected women "in both my personal and professional life."

Franken becomes the latest figure swept up in sexual harassment allegations that have mushroomed since Hollywood figure Harvey Weinstein was hit with multiple allegations. Concerns about sexual harassment are widespread in Congress, where House Speaker Paul Ryan has ordered mandatory training.

Tweeden said the surge of people coming forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment or assault encouraged her to go public with her account about Franken.

Speaking to the media Thursday afternoon, Tweeden said she feels a "tide has turned" regarding sexual harassment, and hoped she could speak for women without microphones across the country who don't feel comfortable speaking for themselves.

"This is happening in middle America. This is happening, you know, for women that work at Chili's. This is happening for women who work in an office building somewhere in Iowa and Kansas and Florida. I mean, this is happening to women who have no power and no say to speak up. I think the tide is turning, and what about all the women who don't have microphones and have a voice and can say something and then it's everywhere on the news. What about the women who get assaulted everyday and are afraid to speak out?"

She said years ago she feared for her career if she were to speak out about what she says Franken did.

"I thought, 'you know what? If I come out and I speak out then, I probably would get fired, or would just get phased out.' And I was afraid of that. And I'm not afraid of that anymore." 

Franken's full statement, released late Thursday morning:

"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, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine—is: I'm sorry.

"I respect women. I don't respect men who don't. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.

"But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.

"For instance, that picture. 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. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.

"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. But the intentions behind my actions aren't the point at all. It's the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I'm sorry it's taken me so long to come to terms with that.

"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. 

"I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate. 

"And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them."

*Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to show that Tweeden is an anchor, not a host. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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