WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sen. Al Franken has called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate allegations by a news anchor that he forced a kiss on her and touched her breasts without consent when both took part in a 2006 tour to entertain U.S. troops.
Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles-based news anchor and former model, wrote Thursday in an article that Franken, a Democrat who has served as a senator for Minnesota since 2009, groped her during the tour in the Middle East. Franken was a comedian and a writer at the time; he was first elected to the Senate in 2008.
The scandal is the latest in a flood that has roiled the worlds of entertainment, politics and the media since last month, when dozens of women alleged that Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein harassed and in some cases assaulted them.
Franken apologized and called for a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry into his actions.
“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,” he said in a statement. “I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.”
In an article for 790 KABC radio, Tweeden shared a photo that shows Franken posing for the camera and smiling, apparently grabbing her breasts as she sleeps. Tweeden is seen in the photo wearing a helmet and flak vest.
Tweeden also claimed that Franken, a former writer and performer for “Saturday Night Live,” forcibly kissed her under the pretense of having to practice a skit the two were performing for the troops. Tweeden said she declined multiple requests by Franken to practice the kiss but that he did not relent.
“He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” Tweeden wrote.
Franken’s request for the inquiry came after a slate of senators, including the Senate minority leader, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the ethics committee to get involved.
“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Schumer said on Twitter. “I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment.”
The allegation against Franken comes as Republicans have called for Roy Moore, the GOP candidate in a special Senate election, to drop out of the race in the wake of multiple allegations that while in his 30s he pursued and in some cases assaulted teenage girls. Moore adamantly denies the allegations and has said he intends to see through next month’s election.
Franken, who has been active in Jewish and pro-Israel causes, was one of several prominent Democrats who received donations from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who last month was accused of sexual assault and harassment by dozens of women. Following the Weinstein revelations, Franken said he would give contributions received from the film producer to charity.