12:05, November 16 324 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-16 12:05:03
Al Franken apologizes after accusation he kissed and groped TV news anchor

US senator and former comedian Al Franken has issued an apology after being accused of kissing and groping a woman without her consent.

Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles-based news anchor, came forward with the allegations in an op-ed published by KABC radio on Thursday that detailed an encounter with Franken during a tour of the Middle East to entertain US troops in 2006.

Tweeden alleges that Franken, then a comedian and formerly of Saturday Night Live, forcibly kissed her while rehearsing for a skit and later groped her while she was asleep.

She also shared a photo that appears to show Franken placing his hands over her breasts while posing for the camera.

The Democratic senator swiftly issued an apology to Tweeden, although he claimed to remember the rehearsal differently.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said in a statement provided to the Guardian.

“As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

The allegation comes as controversy continues over the alleged behavior of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has now been accused of sexual assault by four women and of sexual misconduct by others, amid a wave of outrage over sexual harassment since the Harvey Weinstein case broke in October. Moore, the Republican candidate in a special election in Alabama next month, denies the claims against him.

Donald Trump also faces allegations of sexual assault by at least a dozen women, most of whom came forward in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

Franken is facing re-election in Minnesota and has been named among possible Democratic contenders for president in 2020.

In her essay, Tweeden said she intended to participate in the comedy tour, hosted by the United Service Organizations, as an emcee. But she claimed that Franken wrote a moment into the script where his character “comes at me for a ‘kiss’”.

Tweeden said she assumed she could turn her head away or put her hand over Franken’s mouth “to get more laughs from the crowd”. But on the day of the show, Tweeden wrote, she was alone with Franken backstage when he told her, “We need to rehearse the kiss.”

“I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again,” she wrote. “I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL … we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’”

Tweeden said Franken continued to insist, causing her to grow uncomfortable. She recalled agreeing “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,” Tweeden wrote, before adding she immediately pushed him away and warned him against doing so again.

“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.”

Tweeden said she did not inform any of the officials on the trip because she did not wish to cause trouble. She said she performed the skit as written but turned her head away so Franken could not kiss her lips.

Upon returning to the US, she recounted looking through photos and seeing an image of Franken appearing to grope her breasts.

Leeann Tweeden (@LeeannTweeden)

I’ve decided it’s time to tell my story. #MeToohttps://t.co/TqTgfvzkZg

November 16, 2017

“I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated,” she wrote. “How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”

Tweeden said she told her husband and showed him the photo, but did not come forward at the time because she was worried about the potential backlash and impact it might have on her career to make such accusations against an influential male.

“But that was then, this is now,” she wrote. “I’m no longer afraid.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell responded quickly to the Franken allegations by demanding for an official investigation.

“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter,” McConnell said in a statement. “I hope the Democratic leader will join me on this. Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable – in the workplace or anywhere else.”

A spokesman for Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, did not immediately return a request for comment when asked about the allegation against Franken.

Last month, Franken condemned Weinstein’s behavior in a Facebook post as “appalling” while noting it was “far too common”.