ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized Thursday after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour and of posing for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept.
Leeann Tweeden posted the allegations, including the photo, on the website of KABC , where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show. Tweeden joined the then-comedian on one of several trips to entertain troops in December 2006.
She told The Associated Press that Franken wrote a skit for the pair that was filled with "sexual innuendo," and that Franken had brought a women's thong as a prop that he waved around during their performance. Part of the skit included a kiss, she said, and he insisted they practice kissing during a rehearsal despite her protests.
"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.
The photo that she included was taken on the trip home from Afghanistan. Franken is shown grinning and staring at the camera while reaching out as if to grope Tweeden's breasts as she sleeps. Tweeden said she didn't discover the photo until she returned home.
Franken initially released a brief statement in which he apologized but questioned Tweeden's recollection of the skit. In a longer statement Thursday afternoon, he again apologized while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently.
"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," the Democratic senator said. "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."
Of the photo, Franken said: "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."
The allegations could trigger an ethics review in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to join him in pressing for a review.
"Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable— in the workplace or anywhere else," the Kentucky Republican said.
Franken said he welcomed the investigation.
McConnell's statement comes as Senate Republicans have called for Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore to step aside in the face of allegations he molested two women decades ago. McConnell had led the call. Moore has dug in, saying the allegations are false.
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 is a longtime comedian and "Saturday Night Live" writer who won a Minnesota seat in the U.S. Senate after a lengthy recount in 2009.
He drew criticism during his first Senate campaign for joking about rape while discussing a sketch idea during his days on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Franken said then that he regretted some of the things he had written, and said he respected women "in both my personal and professional life."
Franken becomes the latest person swept up in sexual harassment allegations that have mushroomed since Hollywood figure Harvey Weinstein was hit with multiple allegations.
Tweeden said the surge of people coming forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment or assault encouraged her to go public with her account about Franken.
Statement by Sen. Al Franken on sexual harassment allegation
Text of a statement Thursday from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after he was accused of sexual harassment by fellow performer Leeann Tweeden on a 2006 USO Tour:
"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."
Despite 7 women's statements, Bush unlikely to be prosecuted
By NOMAAN MERCHANT , Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — Allegations that former President George H.W. Bush inappropriately touched seven women involve potential crimes punishable by fines or jail time, if they had been prosecuted.
All but one of the cases is ineligible under state laws that limit when a prosecution can begin after an alleged crime, and several lawyers interviewed said that it would be difficult to win a conviction against Bush, who has vascular parkinsonism, a rare syndrome that mimics Parkinson's disease.
"You're still going to be facing prosecuting a 93-year-old man in a wheelchair that's a former president," said Toby Shook, a lawyer who previously served as a prosecutor in Dallas. "I doubt if you could ever find a jury that would ever want to convict him."
There's no indication prosecutors are planning to pursue a case against Bush. Jordana Grolnick, an actress who alleged that Bush groped her behind last year as his wife, Barbara, stood nearby, told The Associated Press that she has no plans to report the 41st president to authorities. That appears to be the only incident that hasn't reached the local statute of limitations on how long a crime can be prosecuted after it occurs.
The incidents occurred in three states over a decade. In all of the cases, the women say Bush touched their buttocks as they stood next to him to take photos. All three states have laws against touching someone without their consent.
The women's stories broadly follow the same outline: Bush patted them below the waist as they stood next to him to take photos, sometimes with a joke about his favorite magician or writer being named "David Cop-a-Feel."
Bush has issued repeated apologies through a spokesman "to anyone he has offended." The spokesman, Jim McGrath, said in a statement last month that Bush has used a wheelchair for roughly five years, and that "his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures." In a statement Monday, McGrath said, "George Bush simply does not have it in his heart to knowingly cause anyone distress, and he again apologizes to anyone he offended during a photo op."
McGrath did not respond to a request for additional comment Tuesday.
Actress Heather Lind was the first to accuse Bush of groping her, saying in an Oct. 24 Instagram post that Bush "touched me from behind" and told "a dirty joke" while they posed for a photo at a Houston screening of the AMC television series "Turn."
Six more women have come forward since then, including Roslyn Corrigan, who told Time magazine Monday that Bush groped her as they took a photo in 2003, when Corrigan was 16, during an event in The Woodlands, a Houston suburb. Broadway actress Megan Elizabeth Lewis also told NJ.com that Bush groped her at the performance of a musical in Houston in 2009.
The AP generally does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent, but is using the names of women who have spoken publicly on social media or in news reports.
Four of the incidents are reported to have occurred in Texas. Shook said that under Texas law, touching someone's buttocks over the person's clothing would most likely be grounds for a misdemeanor assault charge, with only a $500 fine and no jail time.
In Maine, where Bush is accused of grabbing two women, those allegations could give rise to a charge of assault or unlawful sexual touching, punishable by up to a year in jail, said Walt McKee, a defense attorney in Augusta, Maine.
And in Pennsylvania, where a retired newspaper journalist has accused Bush of touching her during an event in Erie, the state's law against indecent assault could apply, said Richard Settgast, an adjunct law professor at Penn State University.
A key question in any prosecution, the lawyers said, would be whether the suspect touched the victim for sexual gratification or by accident. While age and physical disability would factor into any determination, Settgast said, "I don't necessarily think that just because someone's infirm, they wouldn't be able to be held accountable."
Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, is a beloved figure in both Texas and Maine, the two states where he lives. Two days after the first woman accused Bush of misconduct, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted that Bush was "a statesman and role model to me." Days later, Bush joined his son, former President George W. Bush, on the field before Game 5 of baseball's World Series to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.