STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now it's Senator Al Franken who's accused of sexual assault in the past. A woman says the Minnesota Democrat forcibly kissed her and later groped her while she was sleeping. This allegedly happened in 2006 before Franken was in the Senate. Now, we say allegedly, but Franken has not really denied it. He was a comedian when it all happened on a USO tour and was touring with the woman who was involved. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro's here in our studios. Domenico, good morning.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what exactly happened to Leeann Tweeden?
MONTANARO: Well, she says - she, by the way, Leeann Tweeden is a radio news anchor on KABC in Los Angeles. She was on this USO tour in 2006 to the Middle East. Al Franken was part of that tour, and Franken was performing a comedy routine for the troops. And she says that he asked her to be in this skit with him and that they had to practice a kissing scene that he wanted to put in place. And then he forcibly kissed her, and she was not happy with this and pushed him back.
INSKEEP: And she goes on to say that he got angry after that, that he insulted her, and then there's one more thing in a photograph.
MONTANARO: Right. There was a photo now that's making - that's circulating, which shows Franken then staring - looking at the camera kind of laughing while his hands are over her - are on her chest while she's asleep. She's got a helmet on and a flak jacket, and that's been making the way around the Internet.
INSKEEP: Wearing the helmet and the flak jacket...
INSKEEP: ...Because they're traveling with the military, of course. So what exactly has Franken said about this?
MONTANARO: So Franken doesn't deny it. His office put out a statement saying, 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.
And, you know, she says that she wasn't aware of this until she looked through the photos and writes in her essay, I couldn't believe it. He groped me without my consent while I was asleep. I felt violated all over again, embarrassed, belittled, humiliated.
INSKEEP: It's hard to miss the political context in which this accusation has been made.
MONTANARO: Absolutely. You know, the Senate and House are both moving toward trying to make sexual harassment training mandatory. We heard that from House Speaker Paul Ryan after we had two female members of Congress testify that there are men in Congress, a Democrat and a Republican - they didn't identify the men - who are guilty of sexual harassment. They've introduced what they're calling #MeToo legislation, part of that hashtag that's been going around about women speaking out about who - about their own encounters with sexual harassment.
INSKEEP: And of course, Republicans are in a situation where they've been having to answer questions for days about the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, and the various accusations against Roy Moore. And now we have a Democratic senator who's in the crosshairs so to speak.
MONTANARO: Yeah. I don't think that this is something that, you know, applies to one party or the other. And we have Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, putting out a statement on Al Franken saying that he wants to refer this to the Ethics Committee and that he hopes a Democratic leader will join him on this, regardless of party. Harassment and assault, he says, are completely unacceptable in the workplace or anywhere else. And we should remind listeners that Mitch McConnell has asked Roy Moore to step aside and says he believes the women in that case.
INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks very much.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro this morning on an accusation against Al Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, that he committed sexual assault on a woman he was touring with more than a decade ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.