Minnesota Sen Al Franken faces a storm of criticism and a likely ethics investigation after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour.
He is the first member of Congress caught up in the recent wave of allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior.
Franken apologised, but the criticism only grew through the day. Fellow Democrats swiftly condemned his actions, mindful of the current climate as well as the prospect of political blowback.
Republicans, still forced to answer for the multiple allegations facing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, joined in pressing for an investigation. Franken said he would welcome it.
Leeann Tweeden posted her allegations, including a photo of Franken and her, on the website of KABC, where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show. 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 yesterday that before an earlier show Franken had persisted in rehearsing a kiss and “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” Now, she said, “every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry.” She’s angry with herself, too, she said, for not speaking out at the time “but I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
Franken, 66, is the latest public figure to be caught in the deluge of revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have crushed careers, ruined reputations and prompted criminal investigations in Hollywood, business and beyond.
The swift rebukes from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers suggest that momentum from the online #Metoo movement has begun to spur a culture shift on Capitol Hill, where current and former staffers say misogynistic and predatory behavior has long been an open secret.
In a statement Thursday, Franken apologized to Tweeden and his constituents while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently. Tweeden said she accepted his apology. “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,” Franken wrote.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” Franken added. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.” 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.”