An eye-popping photo of Sen. Al Franken appearing to grope a sleeping woman is making waves across America as the lawmaker and former Saturday Night Live castmember is the latest public figure to be accused of sexual misdeeds.
The photo was taken in December 2006, two years before Franken was elected senator in Minnesota. At the time, Franken was a host for Air America radio.
The woman in the photo is former Playboy model and sports broadcaster Leeann Tweeden, who now hosts a radio show at KABC in Los Angeles.
In a blog post on the KABC website, Tweeden wrote that she and Franken were on a USO Tour entertaining troops in Afghanistan and she says he tried to forcibly kiss her during rehearsals for a sketch.
In addition, Tweeden alleged that she fell asleep on the flight back to the U.S., and when she was later given a CD full of photos from the tour, she discovered one that showed Franken appearing to grope her chest as she slept.
“The tour wrapped and on Christmas Eve we began the 36-hour trip home to L.A.,” she wrote. “After two weeks of grueling travel and performing, I was exhausted. When our C-17 cargo plane took off from Afghanistan I immediately fell asleep, even though I was still wearing my flak vest and Kevlar helmet.”
It’s not clear who snapped the photo.
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” she wrote. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.”
In a press conference on Thursday, Tweeden said that she still has a “pit in my stomach” as she still tries to cope and process the reported situation. She added that her hands ball up into a fist whenever she has seen Franken on television since the alleged incident.
“People make mistakes,” Tweeden added during the press conference. “I’m not calling for him to step down.”
In a statement released Thursday, Franken apologized, saying, “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal in the same way but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but it wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
He later issued a longer statement where he addressed the image in which he appears to be grabbing her breasts:
“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.”
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He also said that he would “gladly cooperate” with an ethics investigation over his alleged behavior, which was called for by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), shortly after the allegations were made.
Other lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle issued rebukes of Franken.
She says she came forward after seeing Rep. Jackie Speier testify about sexual harassment in Congress.
“There are two sitting members of congress — one Democrat, one Republican — who have engaged in sexual harassment,” Speier said in a recent testimony on Capitol Hill.
Franken is a Democrat who went head-to-head this week with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over Russian interference in the 2016 election.