November 16, 2017

‘Nothing Funny About It’: Sen. Al Franken Accused of Unwanted Groping and Kissing

A photograph of then-comedian Al Franken, now a U.S. Senator, gesturing towards model and news anchor Leeann Tweeden who says she was “ashamed,” “angered,” and “humiliated” by the experience. (Photo: Twitter/@LeeannTweeden)

Democratic senator from Minnesota, a former comedian, latest powerful man to be called out for past sexual behavior.

By Jon Queally / 11.16.2017

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is facing accusations of unwanted sexual advances after a female colleague said she was kissed “without [her] consent” and later groped by the comedian-turned-lawmaker while on a USO Tour entertaining U.S. troops overseas in 2006.

In an online posting Thursday morning, journalist Leeann Tweeden, who started her career as a model and now works as a local newscaster in Los Angeles,  said “it’s time to tell my story,” and explained during a flight leaving Afghanistan how Franken had “groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep.”

In her written account of the experience, Tweeden describes how Franken, as headliner and writer of the touring show, had the ability to write scripts for performances which ultimately included one in which he would attempt to kiss Tweeden on stage. From her post:

I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.

On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’

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.

Tweeden says she did not tell anyone in the show about the incident at the time, but avoided Franken as best she could for the remainder of the tour. Subsequently, however, as the group was on a flight leaving Afghanistan and headed back to the U.S., she says she later was shown a photograph in which, while she slept, Franken appears to mimick the gesture of grabbing her breasts. “I couldn’t believe it,” Tweeden writes. “He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep. I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”

In a statement sent to The Hill, Franken said he does not remember the incident Tweeden describes in the same way but acknowledged the photo “wasn’t” funny.

“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 said.

Tweeden explains that she deliberated for a long time about how to come forward. “While debating whether or not to go public,” she writes, “I even thought to myself, so much worse has happened to so many others, maybe my story isn’t worth telling? But my story is worth telling.”

Ultimately, she says she came forward because—inspired by other women who have shared their stories of assault and harassment and being afraid to speak—she wants the fear of others to break and the “silence to be over forever.”