REGIONAL— Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator is facing a Senate Ethics Committee investigation after a radio personality accused Al Franken of groping and forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in …
REGIONAL— Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator is facing a Senate Ethics Committee investigation after a radio personality accused Al Franken of groping and forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in 2006. Franken joined several other senators in calling for the investigation and said he intends to fully cooperate with any inquiry into the claims by Leean Tweeden, who works as a radio news anchor at KABC in Los Angeles. Franken also issued a clear apology, although he said he did not recall the incident in the same way that Tweeden described it this past week in a KABC blog post.
“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,” stated Franken in a statement. “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.”
Tweeden said she had largely kept her experiences with Franken a secret, although she said she had described his actions at the time to a few other members of the USO tour and to her husband. But she said the recent spate of women who have come forward in recent weeks about their own experiences of sexual harassment by powerful men had encouraged her to reveal her own story.
Meanwhile, a second woman, Lindsay Menz, of Frisco, Texas, contacted CNN in the aftermath of Tweeden’s allegations, stating that Franken touched her “bottom” while the two of them were posing for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Menz and her husband Jeremy were living in Minnesota at the time.
Menz told CNN she was visiting the fair with her husband and father, who was sponsoring a local radio station’s booth. She said she posed for photos with various elected officials and political candidates as they visited at the booth. Franken’s office said the senator didn’t recall the photo, noting that he has thousands of photos taken with constituents every year. Franken said he was sorry if Menz felt disrespected.
In the earlier incident, Tweeden said Franken, under the guise of rehearsing a kiss he had worked into a script, had forcibly kissed her and stuck his tongue in her mouth. She said she tried to avoid him after that for the rest of the tour, but on the flight home she had fallen asleep and later found that Franken had arranged a photo of himself on her own phone, in which he appeared to be groping her while she was asleep. Tweeden was still wearing a helmet and a Kevlar vest over a jacket, and the photo is unclear on whether Franken actually made physical contact. But Tweeden said the photo had a devastating effect. “I felt violated all over again,” she said. “Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.”
Franken said he doesn’t disagree. “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.”
The allegations against Franken come at a time when sexual harassment and abuse by wealthy and powerful men has become an increasingly salient political and cultural issue, one that has ended or tarnished the careers of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., and others. Just this past week, a committee hearing in the U.S. House provided stunning testimony of sexual misconduct in Congress, much of it directed at staffers.
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore faces allegations from at least six different women who claim that conservative fundamentalist, as an adult, tried to start sexual relationships with them when they were in their teens, in one case as young as fourteen. Moore, unlike the others accused, has appeared to deny the allegations, although not without some equivocation.
The disclosure over Franken’s behavior comes just over a year after the Access Hollywood tape, in which then-candidate Donald Trump appeared to acknowledge repeated acts of sexual assault against women, including kissing and grabbing genitals. More than a dozen women have since come forward accusing Trump of various sexual improprities. Like Moore, Trump has denied all the allegations.
The political fallout for Franken is uncertain. The photographic evidence of his alleged groping is troubling, although it appears that Franken is merely pretending to grope Tweeden, and is not actually touching her. Tweeden was wearing a kevlar vest over a heavy jacket at the time of the photograph.
The incident has prompted some calls for Franken to step down, but it seems unlikely that will happen, at least before the conclusion of an ethics investigation. For the Senate to advocate Franken’s removal would be difficult politically, given the similar allegations swirling around President Trump, some of which are now in active litigation.
Franken was easily re-elected in 2014, and so won’t be on the ballot again until 2020 should he choose to seek re-election to a third term.
For now, Franken was finding little support from members of his own party. Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined the calls for an ethics investigation. “This should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden. I strongly condemn this behavior and the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation. This is another example of why we need to change work environments and reporting practices across the nation, including in Congress.”
Gov. Dayton also criticized Franken’s actions and DFL gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto called on Franken to resign.