“I’m still angry at what Al Franken did to me,” Tweeden wrote. “Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour.”
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said in a initial statement. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn't have done it.”
After that statement, backlash mounted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, and several of Franken’s Democratic colleagues joined in. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York labeled Franken’s apology insufficient and supported calls for an investigation, and Claire McCaskill and Patty Murray did the same.
Franken then released a second, longer statement. “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. “There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry.”
He added, “I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” and said he was “ashamed.” He said he also supported an ethics investigation and would cooperate.
Although the allegations elicited immediate demands for Franken to resign, his statements offered no indication he planned to do so, and his colleagues’ call for an ethics investigation falls well short of a call to resign—and could provide Franken cover and time to try to ride the story out. Democrats, who have spent days savaging Roy Moore, may feel pressure to force Franken out to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy.
Franken has served in the Senate since 2009, and wrote in his recent book Al Franken: Giant of the Senate that he had decided to run for office during the USO tour.
Tweeden’s story is the latest in a long string of allegations of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault against powerful men in a range of industries. They come as Republicans seek to force Roy Moore, their party’s U.S. Senate nominee in Alabama, out of his race. Female members of Congress and staffers have described Capitol Hill as rife with sexual harassment, as my colleague Michelle Cottle reported.
The Franken allegations are different for a couple reasons: First, they come against a sitting senator. Second, they include not just Tweeden’s account but also a deeply disturbing photo. Third, they demonstrate yet again that sexual-harassment claims are a bipartisan issue.
Franken has previously faced criticism over things he said during his comedy career, and has dismissed critics for taking his words out of context and misunderstanding comedy. A bawdy column in Playboy titled “Porn-O-Rama,” dealing with online bestiality material, became an issue during his first run for office in 2008. Republicans criticized Franken, a former Saturday Night Live star and comedian, for the piece, but he defended it as merely satire, and defenders said he’d been taken out of context.