‘I Felt Disgusted and Violated:’ Senator Al Franken Accused of Forcibly Kissing and Groping L.A. Radio Host
Leeann Tweeden, a model, sportscaster, and radio host, dropped a bombshell blog post on Thursday in which she accused Sen. Al Franken of forcibly kissing her and then groping her as she slept in 2006, when the Democrat from Minnesota was working as a comedian.
The senator apologized to Tweeden in a statement to Fortune, stating that he didn’t recall the kissing incident that occurred during a performance rehearsal. His statement also refers to a photo that appears to show him groping Tweeden’s breasts.
“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.”
In the post published on the website of the KABC radio station in Los Angeles, Tweeden recalls how she and Franken participated in the same USO Tour to the Middle East in December 2006. Tweeden—who had by then appeared in FHM, Maxim, and Playboy—was on the tour to emcee and introduce the performing acts, including Franken, the headliner. But Franken surprised Tweeden by telling her he’d written a part for her in one of his skits that required the two to kiss. Tweeden recalls agreeing to do the bit.
“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 says in her post.
Tweeden says Franken threw her another curveball on the day of the performance by insisting that they rehearse the kiss scene. After demurring several times, Tweeden says she finally gave in “so he would stop badgering me,” she says. She writes what happened next:
“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.
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.
I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.
I felt disgusted and violated.”
Tweeden says she avoided Franken for the rest of the trip, but after arriving back in L.A., she discovered that a tour photographer had captured a moment in which Franken had leaned over her as she slept on a cargo plane, his hands reaching for her breasts.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep.
I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.
How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
Tweeden, the news anchor on KABC’s morning drive show, says she decided to come forward with the allegations now after being inspired by the #MeToo movement that’s encouraged women to go public with tales of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“While debating whether or not to go public, I even thought to myself, so much worse has happened to so many others, maybe my story isn’t worth telling? But my story is worth telling,” she says. “Not just because 2017 is not 2006, or because I am much more secure in my career now than I was then, and not because I’m still angry. I’m telling my story because there may be others.”
Tweeden’s account adds to the spate of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men that have come, one after the other, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. And the allegations against Franken, a prominent Democrat, come as Republicans reckon with Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for an Alabama Senate seat, who’s been accused by several women of pursuing sexual and romantic relationships with minors decades ago. (He denies the claims.)
Franken released a longer statement later on Thursday, apologizing again to Tweeden and to “everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women.” He reiterated that he didn’t recall the kissing incident; nevertheless he said, “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
He said he’s asking for “an ethics investigation” to be undertaken. “I will gladly cooperate,” he said.
This story has been updated to include Franken’s longer statement.