LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11 / AP) - Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized Thursday after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour and of posing for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept.
Leeann Tweeden posted the allegations, including the photo, on the website of KABC, a Los Angeles radio station where she now works as a news anchor for a morning radio show.
She spoke to Good Day LA in a lengthy interview Thursday morning.
Tweeden joined the then-comedian on one of several trips to entertain troops in December 2006 when Franken told her he wrote a skit for the pair that included a kiss. She alleges that despite her protests, he insisted they practice the kiss during rehearsal.
"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 says.
The photo that she included was taken later, on the trip home from Afghanistan. Franken is shown grinning and staring at the camera while reaching out as if to grope Tweeden's breasts as she sleeps. Tweeden said she didn't discover the photo until she returned home.
Franken said in a statement that Tweeden's account of the skit did not match his memory:
“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.”
The allegations could trigger an ethics review in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to join him in pressing for a review.
"Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable- in the workplace or anywhere else," the Kentucky Republican said.
McConnell's statement comes as Senate Republicans have called for Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore to step aside in the face of allegations he molested two women decades ago. McConnell had led the call. Moore has dug in, saying the allegations are false.
Speaking to Good Day LA, Tweeden said she didn't come forward with the allegations sooner because she feared her career, including a stint as a swimsuit model, would lead others to discount her story.
Here is Franken's full statement:
“The first thing I want to do is apologize: 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. There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine—is: I'm sorry.
“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.
“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.
“For instance, that picture. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse. 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. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.
“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.
“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.
“I am 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. 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.”