Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) says he will “gladly” cooperate in an ethics investigation into his behavior after he was accused of groping and unwanted physical contact during an incident in 2006.
The allegations of sexual abuse stem from TV host and sports broadcaster Leeann Tweeden, who came forward on Thursday to accuse Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent and included a photo to prove it.
Franken, then a comedian, was on a USO tour to “entertain our troops” with Tweeden when he allegedly forced his tongue into her mouth after cajoling her into rehearsing a scene. He also posed in a photograph in which he was allegedly “groping” Tweeden as she slept.
Franken issued an expanded statement on Thursday (see below), apologizing for the incident. Although he said he doesn’t remember the kissing incident the same way Tweeden does, he admitted, “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,” Franken wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) commented on the allegations against Franken, asking for the Senate Ethics Committee to review the allegations.
“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. Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable — in the workplace or anywhere else,” McConnell said in a statement.
On Thursday, other senators joined McConnell in calling for an investigation into Franken.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a statement, saying, “Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated. I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment.”
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said his alleged behavior is “completely unacceptable.” In a tweet, she wrote: “I’m shocked and concerned. The behavior described is completely unacceptable. Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.” (See below.)
Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the highest-ranking female Democratic senator, said Franken’s behavior was ” unacceptable” and “extremely disappointing.” She said his apology doesn’t “reverse what he’s done or end the matter,” and asked for an investigation.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said, “There is never an excuse for this behavior—ever. What Senator Franken did was wrong, and it should be referred to the Ethics Committee for review.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the Senate’s other Minnesota member, said, “This should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden. I strongly condemn this behavior and the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation. This is another example of why we need to change work environments and reporting practices across the nation, including in Congress.”
Franken previously warned Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-Ala.) that he would face an ethics probe if he were to win Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat in next month’s special election. Moore was recently accused of sexual misconduct relating to underage, teenage girls.
Moore joined the fray as many condemned Franken’s actions and supported an investigation, in a tweet primarily directed at McConnel. Moore wrote: “Al Franken admits guilt after photographic evidence of his abuse surfaces. Mitch [McConnell]: ‘Let’s investigate.’ In Alabama, ZERO evidence, allegations 100% rejected. Mitch: ‘Moore must quit immediately or be expelled.'”
Moore was referencing McConnel’s statement earlier this week, in which the leader said, “I think [Moore] should step aside,” and, “I believe the women” who have made allegations against Moore.
Al Franken admits guilt after photographic evidence of his abuse surfaces.
Mitch: “Let’s investigate.”
In Alabama, ZERO evidence, allegations 100% rejected.
Mitch: “Moore must quit immediately or be expelled.”
— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) November 16, 2017
Re Al Franken: I’m shocked and concerned. The behavior described is completely unacceptable. Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) November 16, 2017
Franken’s full statement follows:
“The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry.
“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.
“But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.
“For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.
“Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.
“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, 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.
“And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.”