Politics

Sen. Al Franken Accused of Sexual Misconduct

‘He mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth’

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken is facing allegations of sexual misconduct. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

UPDATED 11/16/17 2:04 p.m. | A Los Angeles radio news anchor accused Sen. Al Franken of groping and kissing her without consent in an open letter Thursday on the radio station’s website.

Leeann Tweeden, a 790 KABC morning host, wrote that she was on a 2006 USO tour with the Minnesota Democrat, and the former Saturday Night Live cast member had written material for a joint sketch that involved a kiss. Franken insisted on rehearsing, she said.

“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,” Tweeden said.

“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,” she said.

“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,” she said.

Franken responded with a statement shortly after Tweeden’s personal story circulated Thursday morning.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way,”  he said. “But I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann.”

Franken also addressed a photo that circulated with Tweeden’s story of the senator holding his hands over her chest while she slept.

“As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for investigation into the allegations.

“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement to Roll Call. “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.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called for the same as did Democratic colleagues Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Franken’s Minnesota counterpart Amy Klobuchar and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe said Franken’s actions could have been part of his comedy routine.

Franken later released a more detailed statment explicitly apologizing for his actions and for letting the people around him down.

“I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate,” Franken said in the full statement.

Franken Previously Spoke on Floor About Sexual Harassment Protections, As Well As His USO Work With Accuser

Republican Party of Minnesota Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan called for Franken to resign his Senate seat. The communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee questioned whether Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson would still hold his fundraising date with Franken. The National Republican Congressional Committee called for eight Democrats who each received $1,500 campaign donations from Franken to return the funds amid the allegations.

Iowa Democratic candidate Abby Finkenaur, who’s challenging Rod Blum, quickly announced she would donate Franken’s contribution to her campaign to a nonprofit for survivors of sexual assault.

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich called the allegations “terribly troubling.”

“I look forward to hearing more from Sen. Franken,” he told Roll Call. “They were very thorough and detailed. And I have no reason to question the woman who is speaking out.”

 

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Wednesday she believed the allegations, but declined to say if Franken should step aside.

“They are deeply concerning and I expect to hear more from Sen. Fraken,” she said, speaking at an event in Washington on sexual abuse in the military.

Gillibrand introduced legislation with California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier on Wednesday that takes aim at sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. The legislation, dubbed the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, or ME TOO Congress, would make response training for sexual harassment mandatory for all members and staff, including interns and fellows.

Franken was observed Thursday arriving at the Capitol via a side entrance. He stayed a few minutes before a Judiciary Committee markup started and left via the same side entrance before it began.

Franken was not a senator at the time of the alleged incident. He was first elected to the chamber in 2008, unseating Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes. He won re-election in 2014 with 53 percent of the vote.

One of the first amendments Franken ever offered as a senator was in 2009  “stop funding defense contractors who deny assault victims their day in court” as he said in a release at the time. The amendment was agreed to by a 68-30 vote.

Tweeden’s open letter is the latest in an ongoing public outpouring of accusations against men in positions of power, alleging acts of sexual harassment or assault. Revelations of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior toward women set in motion the most recent series of accusations.

During a meeting on the Hill, President Donald Trump did not talk about sexual harassment allegations raised against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore or Franken, several members said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the funding aims of one of Franken’s first amendments.Breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.