‘Completely unacceptable’: Senators react to allegations that Al Franken kissed and and groped a TV host without consent

Sen. Al Franken on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Al Franken on Capitol Hill.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • TV host Leeann Tweeden accused Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota on Thursday of groping and kissing her without her consent in 2006.
  • Franken’s Senate colleagues are expressing a mixture of dismay, shock, and nonchalance about the allegations.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among others, has called for an ethics investigation.

Top senators from both parties are calling for an ethics investigation into Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota after a Los Angeles TV host alleged in a column on Thursday that Franken had kissed and groped her without permission in 2006.

Leeann Tweeden of 790 KABC alleged that the incidents occurred during a United Service Organizations tour, in which Franken aggressively kissed her, sticking his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a comedy skit.

On the tour’s flight back to the US, Franken groped Tweeden’s breasts while she was asleep – an act which Tweeden only discovered afterwards when she saw a photograph.

“I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated,” Tweeden wrote in the column. “How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”

Franken issued an apology shortly after Tweeden’s column was published, but said he remembered the incident differently.

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

The accusations against Franken come at the same time the GOP is grappling with how to handle the candidacy of Alabama Republican Roy Moore, who faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault on teenage girls.

Here’s what senators had to say about Franken:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks with reporters following the party luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. November 14, 2017.
Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein

McConnell led the way on Thursday with a call for an ethics committee to convene.

“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 in a statement. Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable – in the workplace or anywhere else.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

Chuck Schumer.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Schumer backed McConnell’s call for an investigation. “Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” he 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.”

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri

Claire McCaskill
Win McNamee/Getty Images

McCaskill tweeted that she was “shocked and concerned” by the allegations.

“The behavior described is completely unacceptable,” she said. “Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.”

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island

Not all senators appeared critical of Franken. Whitehouse told reporters, “You guys need to find something more interesting.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY) speaks about pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military at a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2013.
Reuters/Larry Downing

Gillibrand told reporters the allegations are “deeply concerning” and that she believes Tweeden. She said Franken’s apology was not sufficient, and called for an investigation.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Joe Manchin.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

“I just heard about it. I had no idea at all. I just heard. They just told me about it. I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot more about it,” Manchin told reporters.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington

Patty Murray
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Murray also said she backed an ethics investigation and noted that Franken’s apology was appreciated but insufficient.

“This is unacceptable behavior and extremely disappointing. I am glad Al came out and apologized, but that doesn’t reverse what he’s done or end the matter,” she said in a statement.

“I support an ethics committee investigation into these accusations and I hope this latest example of the deep problems on this front spurs continued action to address it.”

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia

Tim Kaine in his office at the US Capitol.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kaine told reporters that the idea of an ethics investigation “has merit.”

When asked whether Franken had done enough to apologize, Kaine said, “That’s a hard question. The sufficiency of an apology is measured by what the person thinks of it. I’m not going to judge the sufficiency of the apology, but the behavior is unacceptable.”

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) speaks at EMILY’s List 30th Anniversary National Conference in Washington March 3, 2015.
Reuters/Yuri Gripas

Shaheen told reporters she couldn’t comment because she is a member of the Ethics Committee.

Franken’s second statement

Franken in a fuller statement apologized again and asked that an ethics investigation be launched. He said he will “gladly cooperate.” Below is the full statement:

“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.”