WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized Thursday and faced a likely Senate ethics investigation after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour.
Fellow Democrats as well as Republican colleagues called for an investigation, which Franken himself welcomed.
The anchor, Leeann Tweeden, posted her allegations, including a photo of Franken and her, on the website of KABC, where she works. The photo shows Franken posing in a joking manner, smiling at the camera with his hands on her chest as she naps wearing a flak vest aboard a military plane. Both had been performing for military personnel in Afghanistan two years before the one-time “Saturday Night Live” comedian was elected to the Senate.
Tweeden said Thursday that before an earlier show Franken had persisted in rehearsing a kiss and “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” She said that Franken was persistent, and “every time I see him now, my hands clench into fists.”
Still, she said she has no reason not to accept his apology.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called the allegations “troubling” and said he hopes and expects that the Senate Ethics Committee will investigate.
Franken is the first member of Congress caught up in the recent wave of allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior.
Franken apologized in statements Thursday but maintained that he remembered the rehearsal differently.
“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences,” he said. “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.”
Of the photo, Franken said: “I look at it now, and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture.”
Fellow Democrats swiftly condemned his actions, mindful of the current climate as well as the prospect of political blowback.
Asked for comment on the Franken accusations, Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer’s spokeswoman, Brianna Puccini, said: “This is very serious, and Senator Fischer supports the call for an Ethics Committee investigation.”
“There is no place for sexual assault or harassment in our society,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. “The Senate Ethics Committee should look into these allegations.’’
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he could offer only a general comment because he’d only had a chance to see the headlines. “Any sort of sexual harassment can’t be tolerated,” Grassley said.
World-Herald staff writer Joseph Morton contributed to this report.