Minnesota Sen. Al Franken Faces Sexual Assault Allegations From LA Radio Host

Nov 16, 2017
Originally published on November 17, 2017 8:04 am
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It seems that almost every day there is another revelation of sexual harassment or assault involving powerful men from Hollywood to media organizations, including here at NPR. It's an issue in Congress, too, and today Democratic Senator Al Franken from Minnesota is facing allegations from when he was a comedian. They come from a radio host named Leeann Tweeden. She says Franken groped and forcibly kissed her while the two were on a USO tour performing for troops. This was in the Middle East back in 2006. Today, Franken apologized for his actions.

NPR's Don Gonyea is with us to talk about all this. Hi Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So Leeann Tweeden talked about this today. She even released a picture where Al Franken appears to be placing his hands over her breasts. We should say she's asleep in the photo. She's wearing a Kevlar vest and a helmet. And Al Franken is smiling toward the camera in the shot.

GONYEA: He's kind of mugging for the camera. And that moment you describe there, she didn't even know about it until she got home from the trip and started looking through the pictures that the official photographer had taken. And he gave her and others a disc. So that humiliated her and embarrassed her, she said. But it followed another problem with Franken on the same tour. He'd written a comedy sketch for them to do in front of the troops. She talked about it on KABC radio this morning on the show that she works on. She says Franken wanted to rehearse a kiss that he had written into the script for them. She said no. He kept insisting. She said no again. He insisted more. Finally she said OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "MCINTYRE IN THE MORNING")

LEEANN TWEEDEN: We rehearse the line. And I'm coming towards him. And he comes up and he grabs me. And he puts his hand behind my head. And he aggressively comes in. And he mashes his mouth against mine. And he sticks his tongue in my mouth. And as it happens - it happens so fast.

MCEVERS: So what did Senator Franken say in response to this?

GONYEA: Well, we have not seen him in person today or before cameras or microphones. He issued first just a brief statement of apology. He mentioned the photo and how he meant it to be funny, then admitted that it wasn't funny. Then later came a much more detailed written statement that included this quote - "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." Then Franken endorsed the idea of an ethics committee investigation into his actions, something Senate leader Mitch McConnell and some Democrats have also called for.

MCEVERS: In addition to that, what else was the reaction on Capitol Hill, especially given that, you know, Franken himself has spoken out about sexual harassment?

GONYEA: Right, and Democrats mostly did not want to talk about it. Republicans were less reluctant, though none have called for his resignation as of yet. And of course, they're dealing with fallout from the case down in Alabama with their Senate candidate, Judge Roy Moore. The GOP senate campaign committee called on Democrats to denounce Franken and to return any money his fundraising PAC contributed to their campaigns, and some Democrats have said they will donate any money they got from Franken to causes that work on sexual assault and rape.

MCEVERS: And what about Leeann Tweeden herself? Did she react to his apology?

GONYEA: So she said she accepts the apology. As for Franken's status, she said it's not her place to say he should resign or stay on or whatever. Then she added, as long as other women don't come forward with stories like hers. Then she said she's worried about all of those women who won't get the attention that her situation is now getting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TWEEDEN: This is happening in Middle America. This is happening, you know, for women that work at Chili's. This is happening for women who work in an office building somewhere in Iowa, in Kansas, in Florida. I mean, this is happening to women who have, you know, no power and no say to speak up.

MCEVERS: That's Leeann Tweeden there reacting to Senator Al Franken's apology to her today. And NPR's Don Gonyea, thanks for filling us in.

GONYEA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.