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Sen. Al Franken Accused Of Sexual Assault By LA Model And Radio Host

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., apologized for an alleged sexual assault incident on a 2006 USO tour.
Jose Luis Magana
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., apologized for an alleged sexual assault incident on a 2006 USO tour.

Updated at 4:05 p.m. ET

Another prominent public figure has been accused of making unwanted sexual advances. Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden said now-Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., forced himself on her and groped her while the two were on a USO tour in 2006.

Franken has apologized for his actions, calling them "inappropriate." Democratic and GOP leaders are now calling for a Senate ethics investigation, which Franken says he will cooperate with.

In a statement posted on KABC's website, Tweeden wrote that the incident occurred in December of that year, during a rehearsal for a USO holiday show in the Middle East. Franken, she said, wrote a skit in which he was to kiss Tweeden. She says Franken told her that "we need to rehearse the kiss."

Tweeden said she told the former Saturday Night Live star "something like 'Relax Al, this isnt SNL...we dont need to rehearse the kiss.' " But she said he insisted and she relented. "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 said she felt "disgusted and violated" but didn't report it because "we were in the middle of a war zone" and "I didn't want to cause trouble."

She said that on the way back from the tour, onboard an Army transport plane, while she was asleep, Franken groped her. Her post includes a photo of Franken with his hands on her chest, looking back at the camera and smiling. She is asleep, wearing a helmet and flak jacket.

At the time, Franken was performing as a professional comedian before running for the Senate. Tweeden was on her ninth USO tour and was known at the time for her work as a TV host, sportscaster and model.

Franken described their performances on USO tours during a 2010 Senate floor speechin opposition to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "I was a kind of co-host with a beautiful woman named Leeann Tweeden, and we'd do comedy routines and we'd introduce music and introduce the cheerleaders," Franken said.

Franken issued an initial statement: "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."

Later Thursday afternoon he put out an extended statement, apologizing further and asking for an ethics investigation with which he would "gladly cooperate."

In a news conference, Tweeden said, "Nothing like that is ever funny. I mean, is it funny if he does that to your sister or your daughter or your wife?"

On her own radio station she said that she wanted nothing from Franken. Tweeden said she spoke out now because "the tide has turned" and that she was inspired by the vocalness of Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who recounted her own experience with harassment as an aide on Capitol Hill in October and has been an advocate for change in reporting and training in Congress.

"If I'm talking about it, maybe somebody else will feel like they can come out in real time and not hold it in for 10, 12, 30, 50 years," Tweeden said.

Tweeden's accusation against Franken came two days after a House hearing on what was described as a pervasive problem of sexual misconduct in Congress and also as Republicans urged Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to drop out of the race after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including assault, when his accusers were mostly teenagers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the Franken incident:

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

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., later echoed McConnell's call for an ethics investigation, as have other Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders offered no comment on Franken beyond saying that the White House believes an ethics investigation is "an appropriate action."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.