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Leeann Tweeden, a TV host and sports broadcaster, says Sen. Al Franken kissed and groped her without her consent in 2006.
The McIntyre in the Morning anchor wrote a first-person essay on the website for KABC talk radio, detailing her encounter with the then-comedian, now a Minnesota senator, during a USO tour to entertain troops in the Middle East. She provided a photo (below) as evidence.
On the trip was Tweeden’s now-husband, an Air Force pilot, along with country music artists Darryl Worley, Mark Wills and Keni Thomas, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and Franken, who was the headliner for the show.
Tweeden said Franken wrote skits for the show, and, like many USO shows before it and since, she says “the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.”
She said, “As a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy, I was only expecting to emcee and introduce the acts, but Franken said he had written a part for me that he thought would be funny, and I agreed to play along.”
In the script, Franken wrote in a kiss between him and Tweeden, and, she says, he asked to rehearse the kiss before the show. Though she said they didn’t need to rehearse the moment, since she planned to deny his advances for a laugh, he “continued to insist” and then “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.”
Tweeden wrote that she felt “disgusted and violated.”
No one saw what happened, and she says she let it go but made sure she was never alone with him again on the tour.
The tour wrapped, and on Christmas Eve, during their 36-hour trip back to L.A., she fell asleep in her flak vest and Kevlar helmet. Later, when back in the U.S. and looking through photos from the plane, she saw a picture of Franken with his hands over her chest.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep. I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated,” she wrote. “How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?” (Tweeden included the photo on her story, also below, which can be read in full here.)
— Leeann Tweeden (@LeeannTweeden) November 16, 2017
Shortly after Tweeden’s post, Franken released a statement through his press office.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
He then released a lengthier second statement where he asked for an ethics investigation and vowed to cooperate.
“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,” he began. “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.”
He went on to say, “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.”
Of the picture, he said, “I don’t know what was in my head” but that it doesn’t matter. “There’s no excuse,” he said. “I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate.” He acknowledged how Tweeden, and millions of other women would feel violated by it.
“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,” he said. Continuing, “While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.” He closed by saying he has let women down and is “committed to making it up to them.”
The L.A.-based KABC radio host said she never told her story until now because she was worried about potential backlash to her career. But spurred by her own reporting of the sexual harassment and assault claims sweeping Hollywood and other industries alike, Tweeden explained in her post, “I’m no longer afraid.”
To Franken, she said, “You wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault. You wrote the scene that would include you kissing me and then relentlessly badgered me into ‘rehearsing’ the kiss with you backstage when we were alone.”
She continued, “You knew exactly what you were doing. 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. … My story is worth telling.”
Appearing on Fox News later on Thursday, Tweeden told Fox 11’s Good Day L.A. that it was “the combination of the sticking his tongue down my throat and the photo I would see after I got home and just sort of how he treated me on the entire trip” that brought her to speak out. During the appearance, which was taped ahead of Franken’s statement release, she said she “didn’t care” about an apology at this point. “He thought he could get away with it and that it was OK,” she said of running into him later and never receiving an apology in person.
Nov. 16, 10 a.m. Updated with second Franken statement.
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