Sen. Al Franken Apologizes for Groping a Woman's Breasts in Shocking Photo
A TV host and sports broadcaster has accused Sen. Al Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent in 2006.
Leeann Tweeden took to Twitter on Thursday to accuse the Minnesota Democrat and former Saturday Night Live star of touching her breasts as she was sleeping while the two were on a USO Tour to entertain troops in December 2006.
“I’ve decided it’s time to tell my story,” she tweeted, including a photo of the alleged incident.
“It wasn’t until I was back in the U.S. and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one,” she wrote in a piece for KABC. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
Tweeden says Franken also kissed her against her will during a rehearsal for a skit the then-comedian had written for the tour.
Franken quickly apologized for the incident in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, saying: “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.”
Franken later issued a longer statement, also obtained by PEOPLE, in which he apologized again and said “there’s no excuse” for his actions in the photo. “I don’t know what was in my head when I took took that picture, and it doesn’t matter,” he said. “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.”
Franken also referenced the recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations that have been leveled against men of power in various industries, and said that it has forced men to think about the impact their actions have on women.
“Over the past 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,” Franken said.
Tweeden later gave a press conference in which she said she accepted Franken’s apology and was not calling for him to step down. But she noted that he did not apologize to her when she ran into him previously after the incident.
“The apology, sure, I accept it,” she said. “People make mistakes and of course he knew he made a mistake.”
Tweeden added of Franken’s actions, “Nothing like that is ever funny. I was just disgusted. I felt violated, he betrayed my trust and obviously that is not what I wanted.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to Tweeden’s allegations with a call for an Ethics Committee investigation of Franken’s actions.
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter. I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this,” McConnell said Thursday, according to Politico. “Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable-in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Later on Thursday, a second woman came forward with allegations of harassment against Franken.
Melanie Morgan, the co-founder of the blog Media Equalizer, alleged in a piece for the website that Franken harassed her after they both appeared on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher in 2000.
Morgan said that after she and Franken disagreed about something on the show, he continued the argument offstage in what she described as a “very threatening and intimidating” manner. According to Morgan, his “creepy behavior” didn’t end there, with Franken allegedly asking the show’s producer for Morgan’s phone number and then calling her repeatedly at home.
“I became fearful and called [the producer] to complain and asked her to tell him to back off. But he made another call after that. I thought that he might end up stalking me at my home in Northern California, it was that bad. By the third phone call I was outraged and terrified, as he is really disturbed,” Morgan recounted.
Morgan said Franken finally stopped calling but only after she threatened “to call the police and make a report that he was harassing me.”
But Morgan said she never forgot about that incident and that “it informed me of his lack of character and obsessive personality. I believe every word Leann wrote.”
Franken’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Morgan’s allegations.
Tweeden also wrote in her piece that Franken, the headliner on the USO tour, told her he had written a skit for her to star in with him, and she “agreed to play along.”
“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.
“On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. 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.’”
Tweeden wrote that she became “uncomfortable” after Franken continued to press the issue.
“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,” she 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 she felt “disgusted and violated” after the incident but that she didn’t tell anyone at the time.
It wasn’t until later that she saw the photo of Franken apparently groping her after she fell asleep on the plane ride back to the U.S.
“I wanted to shout my story to the world with a megaphone to anyone who would listen, but even as angry as I was, I was worried about the potential backlash and damage going public might have on my career as a broadcaster,” she wrote. “But that was then, this is now. I’m no longer afraid.”