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Al Franken Hit With Sexual Assault Accusation

“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.”

17/11/2017 6:21 AM AEDT | Updated 17/11/2017 6:22 AM AEDT

Anchorwoman and sportscaster Leeann Tweeden said Thursday that comedian Al Franken kissed and groped her without her consent during a USO tour in December 2006.

Franken, who is now the junior Democratic senator from Minnesota, was headlining the event. Tweeden was emceeing.

Tweeden said Thursday that she knew ahead of time that Franken had written a skit where his character tries to kiss her.

"On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time," Tweeden wrote in a post for 790 KABC, the radio station she works for in Los Angeles. "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."

She finally relented, she said:

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.

She did end up performing the skit as written, she continued, turning her head away while on stage so Franken couldn't kiss her.

When Tweeden was on her way home to Los Angeles, she said, she fell asleep on the plane. While she slept, Franken grabbed her breasts and had a photo taken.

"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?"

Sgt Thomas Day/DVIDS
From left to right, musician Darryl Worley, sportscaster Leeann Tweeden and comedian Al Franken greet soldiers during an autograph session in Kuwait, Dec. 14, 2006.

Franken, who was elected to the Senate in 2008, responded to Tweeden's account in a press statement Thursday.

"I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann," he said. "As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."

He later issued a longer statement, apologizing to Tweeden and calling for an ethics investigation of his behavior.

"I respect women. I don't respect men who don't. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed," Franken said.

USO confirmed to HuffPost that the incident was never reported to them.

"We have no knowledge of it," public relations director Ashley McLellan said in a statement. "The report is deeply disturbing and does not reflect the values of the USO."

Spc Creighton Holub
Franken and Tweeden performing a USO skit in Mosul, Iraq, Dec. 16, 2006.

"I thought it would hurt my career," Tweeden told Fox 11 News on Thursday, explaining why she didn't speak out at the time. "I was going to look like the bad girl... I was a swimsuit model before I got into television... I was the one that was going to be hurt from it, and nothing was going to happen to him. And now, everything's different."

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Tweeden described the aftermath of the USO performance.

"I had to act my way through the rest of the shows," she said. "I made sure I was never alone again. I didn't tell the sergeant of the Army. What was I gonna do, be the troublemaker?"

"I just sucked it up," she went on. "I'm a strong girl. I'm a sportscaster. I deal with guys every day. It was a big tour with a lot of people. I just didn't socialize with him. I made sure I was never alone with him again."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for an Ethics Committee review of the allegation.

"Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable ― in the workplace or anywhere else," McConnell said.

Democratic senators including Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) reacted to Tweeden's account.

"I know [Franken] said it was inappropriate, and I agree," Brown reportedly told CNN.

"Sexual harassment and groping are never okay and are never funny," Blumenthal said. Gillibrand reportedly expressed support for an investigation into Tweeden's allegations.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed the call for an ethics investigation.

"Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated," Schumer said in a statement. "I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment."

Last month, following a whirlwind of accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Franken wrote in a Facebook post about the "disappointing responses" women often receive after sharing their stories. He also said he was working to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would allow people who have faced workplace harassment to go to court.

Mike Sacks, a political correspondent for Scripps and former producer for HuffPost, noted on Twitter that in Franken's book Giant of the Senate, he says he decided to run for public office after the 2006 USO tour.

"This is happening in middle America, for women who work at Chili's," Tweeden said during Thursday's press conference. "This is happening in Florida, to women who have no power and say to speak up. I think the tide is turning."

"What about all the women who don't have microphones and a voice?" she went on. "I wanted to speak out 11 years ago, but people said 'You will get annihilated and never have a career again.' And I was afraid of that. But I'm not afraid of that anymore."

Staff Sgt Patrick Moes/DVIDS
Franken and Tweeden perform a skit in Kuwait during the 2006 USO tour.

Jennifer Bendery and Sarah Ruiz-Grossman contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated Sacks' professional affiliation. He works for Scripps, not Esquire.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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