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McConnell, Schumer Unite on Ethics Probe as Franken Apologizes for Sexual Assault

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) walks to a Senate policy luncheon in the Capitol on June 6, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Both GOP and Democratic Senate leaders said they want the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) over a radio reporter saying he kissed and groped her without consent in December 2006.

In a testimonial posted today on the website of L.A.’s 790 KABC, Leeann Tweeden said she was on her ninth USO tour with comedian Franken as the headliner.

“Franken had written some skits for the show and brought props and costumes to go along with them. Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience,” Tweeden 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.”

“When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’. I suspected what he was after, but 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 continued. “On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, ‘We need to rehearse the kiss.’ I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’ He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.”

Tweeden said he insisted on rehearsing the kiss, she finally agreed, and “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,” 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. I felt disgusted and violated.” When they performed the skit for the USO show, she turned her head at the kiss part, she added.

“I avoided him as much as possible and made sure I was never alone with him again for the rest of the tour. Franken repaid me with petty insults, including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops.”

She then found a photo from the trip in which she had fallen asleep on a C-17 flying out of Afghanistan and Franken was grabbing her breasts.

The news anchor for McIntyre in the Morning said she was inspired to come forward by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) revealing how a man in Washington forcibly kissed her when she was a young congressional aide. Tweeden added that she’s now telling the story “because there may be others.”

“Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault,” she wrote. “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.”

In a statement, Franken, who was elected to the Senate two years after that USO tour, apologized “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.”

“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,” he said. “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.”

The senator said he doesn’t know “what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter…  I feel disgusted with myself.”

“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. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.”

Franken added that he doesn’t remember the forced kiss skit rehearsal as Tweeden described it, but “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that “sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated.”

“I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment,” Schumer added.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement that “as with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter.”

“Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable — in the workplace or anywhere else,” he said.

Franken said he was “asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.”

“And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories,” he added. “They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.”

Several Democrats said money they’d received from Franken’s PAC would be given to charity, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a longtime proponent of tougher policies against sexual assault, giving $12,500 to Protect our Defenders, a group that battles sexual assault in the military.

Tweeden told CNN that she accepted Franken’s apology and didn’t want to see him ousted from the Senate over the incident. She also called for an investigation outside the Senate.