ST. PAUL, Minn. (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, where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show. Tweeden joined the then-comedian on one of several trips to entertain troops in December 2006.
She said that Franken told her he wrote a skit for the pair that included a kiss and 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,” she wrote.
The photo that she included was taken 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.
“But I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken wrote. “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 on her radio show Thursday morning, 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.
“I felt belittled. I was ashamed. I’ve had to live with this for 11 years,” she said on-air. “Somehow it was going to be my fault. It was not going to be worth the fight.”
Franken is a longtime comedian and “Saturday Night Live” writer who won a Minnesota seat in the U.S. Senate after a lengthy recount in 2009.
He drew criticism during his first Senate campaign for joking about rape while discussing a sketch idea during his days on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Franken said then that he regretted some of the things he had written, and said he respected women “in both my personal and professional life.”
Franken becomes the latest person swept up in sexual harassment allegations that have mushroomed since Hollywood figure Harvey Weinstein was hit with multiple allegations.
Tweeden said the surge of people coming forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment or assault encouraged her to go public with her account about Franken.