Democratic Senator Al Franken allegedly forcibly kissed and groped the breasts of Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden against her will in 2006. The two were on a USO tour together to entertain troops deployed in Afghanistan.
Tweeden says the senator from Minnesota posed for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept, in an essay she posted on Thursday on the website of California radio station KABC, where she anchors a morning talk show. A copy of the photo is posted with the article, which she only discovered after they returned from the tour and was going over the photos.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately called on the Senate Ethics Committee to review allegations.
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Franken was a well-known comedian before becoming a senator, best-known for his work as an actor and writer on Saturday Night Live comedy show.
She said Franken wrote a skit for the pair during the USO tour to the Middle East and insisted they practice a kiss during rehearsal. Tweeden says she tried to resist but says Franken forced himself on her and stuck his tongue in her mouth.
Tweeden wrote about the picture that she “felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
“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. 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,” wrote Tweeden.
In one skit, Franken’s character was to kiss Tweeden’s character, and insisted they rehearse the scene.
“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.
"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,” she wrote.
Tweeden said she is telling her story now because she is no longer afraid and there might be others: “I want the days of silence to be over forever.”
Franken responded in an emailed statement to journalists from his press office: "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."
Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008, but it took eight months of legal wrangling until the Minnesota Supreme Court finally upheld his victory by 312 votes out of almost 2,900,000 votes cast. He was only sworn in six months late, in July.