ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized Thursday after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour and of posing for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept.
Leeann Tweeden posted the allegations, including the photo, on the website of KABC , where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show. Tweeden joined the then-comedian on one of several trips to entertain troops in December 2006.
She told The Associated Press that Franken wrote a skit for the pair that was filled with “sexual innuendo,” and that Franken had brought a women’s thong as a prop that he waved around during their performance. Part of the skit included a kiss, she said, and he insisted they practice kissing during a rehearsal despite her protests.
“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.
The photo that she included was taken on the trip home from Afghanistan. Franken is shown grinning and staring at the camera while reaching out as if to grope Tweeden’s breasts as she sleeps. Tweeden said she didn’t discover the photo until she returned home.
Franken initially released a brief statement in which he apologized but questioned Tweeden’s recollection of the skit. In a longer statement Thursday afternoon, he again apologized while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently.
“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 Democratic senator said. “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.”
Of the photo, Franken said: “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.”
The allegations could trigger an ethics review in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to join him in pressing for a review.
“Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable— in the workplace or anywhere else,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Franken said he welcomed the investigation.
McConnell’s statement comes as Senate Republicans have called for Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore to step aside in the face of allegations he molested two women decades ago. McConnell had led the call. Moore has dug in, saying the allegations are false.
Speaking on her radio show Thursday morning, Tweeden said she didn’t come forward with the allegations sooner because she feared her career, including a stint as a swimsuit model, would lead others to discount her story.
“I felt belittled. I was ashamed. I’ve had to live with this for 11 years,” she said on-air. “Somehow it was going to be my fault. It was not going to be worth the fight.”
Franken is a longtime comedian and “Saturday Night Live” writer who won a Minnesota seat in the U.S. Senate after a lengthy recount in 2009.
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 person swept up in sexual harassment allegations that have mushroomed since Hollywood figure Harvey Weinstein was hit with multiple allegations.
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.