U.S. Senator Al Franken on Thursday became the latest high-profile figure entangled in the sexual misconduct scandal that has been shaking American culture since the Harvey Weinstein allegations were made in early October. Sportscaster and model Leeann Tweeden accused the Democrat from Minnesota of having kissed her and groped her in 2006 during a USO visit to troops stationed in the Middle East.
Writing in a piece published on the website of the L.A.-area radio station where she works, Tweeden, a former Playboy Playmate and a current on-air personality on McIntyre in the Morning, accused Franken, who was a comedian at the time, of groping her while she was sleeping and coercing her into kissing him. She provided damning photographic evidence showing Franken, an ear-to-ear grin on his face, using his hands to apparently grab her chest as she slept on the plane ride home from the visit.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden wrote. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?” Earlier in the trip, Tweeden alleged, Franken had written some sketches that would be used to entertain the troops. One of the sketches involved Franken and Tweeden kissing, and she said he insisted on rehearsing that plot point — even though she thought doing so was unnecessary.
“He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable. He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. 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 revelations rocked Washington D.C., and Franken issued a quick apology, though he quibbled with Tweeden’s recollection of the rehearsal. “The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone 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. There’s not I want to say, but the first and most important thing — and if the the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine — is: I’m sorry,” Franken said in the statement. He went on to say that in retrospect, the photo is not funny, it’s “disgusting.” Read his full apology here. Many on Twitter wondered how Franken would respond given the clear position he’s taken on the issue in recent weeks.
After news of the apology broke, Tweeden said she accepted the apology. She indicated that she hadn’t expected anything from Franken and that he could’ve apologized at any point over the last 11 years — they’ve run into each other at public events. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t accept his apology,” she said.
But some of Franken’s Senate colleagues were less interested in accepting his mea culpa. Several top-ranking senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, called for an investigation — something Franken said he would welcome.
Meanwhile on Thursday, a second woman came forward with a claims of harassment by Franken. Melanie Morgan, a conservative former radio host, alleged in a report by Media Equalizer that Franken harassed her after the two made an appearance on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect TV show in 2000. Morgan said she and Franken, who was a writer on the show at the time, clashed over a minor point in what she described as “actually just a mundane discussion.” After the show, she said, Franken wouldn’t let the argument go and kept insisting he was right. Morgan said she felt threatened and intimidated by Franken.
She then said he obtained her home phone number, after she declined to give it to him, from the show’s producer — a woman — and began repeatedly calling her and badgering her over the phone. She said Franken finally backed off when she threatened to call the police and file a harassment report.
Below, watch video of Tweeden discussing the 2006 kissing incident with Franken.
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Read the full story at New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog.