WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken personally apologized to the woman who has accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour, saying he remembers their encounter differently but he is “ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you.”
In a guest appearance Friday on ABC’s “The View,” Leeann Tweeden read a letter she received from the Democratic lawmaker in which he also discussed a photo showing him posing in a joking manner, smiling at the camera with his hands on her chest as she naps wearing a flak vest aboard a military plane.
Both had been performing for military personnel in Afghanistan two years before the one-time “Saturday Night Live” comedian was elected to the Senate. Tweeden has said Franken had persisted in rehearsing a kiss and “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
The letter read: “Dear Leeann, I want to apologize to you personally. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture. But that doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I understand why you can feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently. But what’s important is the impact on you and you felt violated by my actions, and for that I apologize. I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO. And I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry. Sincerely Al Franken.’”
Franken is the first member of Congress caught up in the recent wave of allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior.
Franken apologized Thursday, but there were no signs the issue would go away any time soon. Fellow Democrats swiftly condemned his actions, mindful of the current climate as well as the prospect of political blowback.
Republicans, still forced to answer for the multiple allegations facing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, joined in pressing for an investigation. Franken said he would welcome it.
Franken abruptly canceled a sold-out book festival appearance scheduled for Monday in Atlanta, festival organizers said. He had been scheduled to speak and promote his book, “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.”
Leeann Tweeden posted her allegations, including a photo of Franken and her, on the website of KABC, where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show.
After the rehearsal, Tweeden said, “every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry.” She’s angry with herself, too, she said, for not speaking out at the time “but I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
On Friday, Tweeden said she didn’t come forward with the hope that Franken would step down.
“That’s not my call,” Tweeden told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She later added: “I think that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide.”
Franken faces re-election in 2020.
Franken, 66, was the latest public figure to be caught in the deluge of revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have crushed careers, ruined reputations and prompted criminal investigations in Hollywood, business and beyond. The swift rebukes from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers suggest that momentum from the online #Metoo movement has begun to spur a culture shift on Capitol Hill, where current and former staffers say misogynistic and predatory behavior has long been an open secret.
In a statement Thursday, Franken apologized to Tweeden and his constituents while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently. Tweeden said she accepted his apology.
“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,” Franken wrote.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” he added. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”
President Donald Trump ridiculed Franken in tweets Thursday night: “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? ….. And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?”
Trump, who misspelled the name Frankenstein, referred to a New York magazine story from 1995 in which Franken, while a writer for “Saturday Night Live,” suggested a skit in which “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney would muse about drugging correspondent Leslie Stahl and taking pictures of her.
Trump has been publicly silent about the allegations against Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s special Senate election. Through a spokeswoman, he called the allegations of sexual misconduct against the former judge “very troubling” but stopped short of calling on Moore to drop out.
The accusations against Franken come just days after the Senate unanimously adopted mandatory sexual harassment training for members and staffs amid a flood of stories about harassment, sexual misconduct and gender hostility from staffers, aides and even female elected officials.
Senate Democrats spoke with one voice in describing Franken’s actions as unacceptable and calling for an ethics probe.
Franken’s fellow Minnesota Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, condemned Franken’s behavior. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, facing a tough re-election next year, said, “Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.”
Associated Press writers Kyle Potter and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.