(CN) – Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized Thursday to a Los Angeles radio anchor who accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour and taking a photo as she slept that showed him reaching for her breasts.
In the wake of Leeann Tweeden’s allegations and Franken’s apology, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an Ethics Committee investigation into the incident.
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter. I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this,” McConnell said. “Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable — in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Later, Franken released a second statement in which he said, “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
“I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate,” he said.
Tweeden posted the allegations Thursday morning on the website of KABC, a Los Angeles radio station where she now works as a news anchor for a morning radio show.
In her post, Tweeden said she met Franken in December 2006, two years before his election to Congress, during a USO trip to entertain troops. Having served as a writer on more than 300 episodes of “Saturday Night Live” since 1975, Franken was headlining the show and wrote a kiss between himself and Tweeden into one of the skits.
Tweeden said Franken 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.
Tweeden also included a photo of her sleeping on board an aircraft later during the trip, in which Franken is shown reaching out as if to grope her breasts.
Franken’s initial statement Thursday said 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.”
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’s sense of humor has gotten him in hot water on a number of occasions since he embarked on his political career, and a May 2017 profile in The New York Times recounted his staff’s efforts to reign him in on occasion, quoting one saying “OK, that’s for inside the car” in response to one of his quips.
In his latest book, “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate,” the senator recalled that during the 2008 campaign, he was attacked for such transgressions as a late-night writers’-room joke about raping Lesley Stahl, and a 2000 Playboy article entitled “Porn-o-Rama.”
Franken believed he had nothing to apologize for, saying the brazen jokes were part and parcel of being a writer for “Saturday Night Live.”
“I wasn’t sorry that I had written Porn-o-Rama or pitched that stupid Lesley Stahl joke at 2 in the morning. I was just doing my job,” Franken wrote.
But he said he realized the controversy over those jokes was hurting his support among women in what proved to be an exceedingly tight race.
“I learned that campaigns have their own rules, their own laws of physics, and that if I wasn’t willing to accept that, I would never get to be a senator,” Franken wrote. And in the end, he apologized.
Franken’s humor has also gotten him in trouble with McConnell in the past.
When Franken rolled his eyes during a speech McConnell was giving, the Republican leader broke off in midsentence to rebuke him.
“This isn’t ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al,” McConnell said.
Franken quickly delivered a handwritten apology to McConnell, who accepted it.