Who Is Leeann Tweeden? The Radio Host Says Sen. Al Franken Sexually Assaulted Her In 2006
In an article on Thursday morning, 790 KABC news anchor Leeann Tweeden alleged that Sen. Al Franken kissed and groped her without her consent when the two of them were abroad on a USO tour in Afghanistan in 2006. Tweeden claimed that Franken kissed her on the lips and stuck his tongue in her mouth, then later allegedly groped her when she was sleeping on the plane back to the U.S. — an incident she included a photo of, with Franken smiling at the camera as his hands grabbed at her chest.
In a statement, Franken says he does not remember the incident and that the photo was meant to be funny. "I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann," Franken says. "As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."
Tweeden recalled in her article that Franken, who was headlining the USO tour as a comedian back then, included her in a part of his script where his character goes to her for a kiss. As they went over their lines on the day of the show, Tweeden claimed Franken repeatedly insisted they practice the kiss. "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.
Tweeden wrote that she avoided Franken as much as she could during the rest of the tour, and made sure she was never alone with him. When she was back in the U.S., Tweeden looked through a CD with photos from the tour and discovered one of Franken grabbing at her chest while she was sleeping.
"I couldn't believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep," she wrote. "I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it's funny?"
Shortly after Tweeden went public with her allegations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for the Ethics Committee to "review the matter." The backlash elsewhere has been swift; many have called for Franken's Democratic colleagues to denounce his actions, as well as for Franken to resign.
In a follow-up statement, Franken pointedly apologized to Tweeden and said he would cooperate with an ethics investigation:
Tweeden's story comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill attempt to confront rampant sexual misconduct in the halls of Congress. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of politicians unveiled the ME TOO Congress Act that would protect accusers, make harassment settlements more transparent, and mandate sexual harassment training for all Congress members and staff.
Congress' recent reckoning with its sexual misconduct problem comes as high-profile men across major industries continue being outed as sexual predators. The stunning allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein emboldened women in other fields to go public with their own alleged experiences of sexual misconduct. (Weinstein has apologized for his behavior and denied all claims of non-consensual sexual encounters.)
After years of shaming and blaming, women were believed — and powerful men were being fired, shunned, and denounced for their alleged behavior.
Tweeden wrote in her article that she debated whether her story was worth going public with. "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," she wrote, adding that she's coming forward because there may be other victims.
"I want them, and all the other victims of sexual assault, to be able to speak out immediately, and not keep their stories –and their anger– locked up inside for years, or decades," she added. "I want the days of silence to be over forever."