US senator apologises for grope caught on camera


17th November, 2017 05:49:30 printer

US senator apologises for grope caught on camera

US Senator Al Franken has responded to a woman’s allegations that he groped her as she slept and “forcibly” kissed her in a rehearsal for a comedy skit.


Leeann Tweeden says the two incidents happened in December 2006 on a tour to entertain US troops overseas, before Mr Franken entered politics.


The radio host wrote that the former comic “aggressively” kissed her while saying they had to rehearse a scene.


Mr Franken, a former Saturday Night Live writer, apologised for the grope.


But the Minnesota Democrat said he has a different recollection of the kiss.


“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said in a statement.


“As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”


Mr Franken issued a second, longer statement less than two hours later after a ferocious backlash from critics who accused him of a non-apology and demanded his resignation.


In an article for KABC, a Los Angeles radio station where Ms Tweedon now works, she recalled feeling victimised by Mr Franken during her ninth USO tour of the Middle East.


“When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’,” she said.


“I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.”


On the day of the performance, she said he was insistent they rehearse the skit.


But when the moment came he “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth”.


“You knew exactly what you were doing. You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed,” she wrote.


The Democratic leader of the Senate called for the chamber’s Ethics Committee to investigate the Franken incidents.


Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement: “Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated.”


The Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell echoed the call for an ethics investigation.


Mr Franken said later that he would “gladly cooperate”.


In his second statement, he said: “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.”


Of the photo, he added: “I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate.


“It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture.”


But he still begged to differ on her portrayal of him forcing his tongue down her mouth.


“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does,” he said, “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”


As a senator for Minnesota, Mr Franken has cultivated an image for himself as a vocal champion of women’s issues, from sexual assault to abortion rights and equal pay.


US President Donald Trump did not respond to reporters during a visit on Capitol Hill when asked if Mr Franken should resign.


Ms Tweeden said she was inspired to come forward more than a decade later after California congresswoman Jackie Speier was interviewed on her morning radio programme.


Mrs Speier told about being sexually assaulted as a young congressional aide in Washington.


She also claimed to know two currently serving members of Congress who “have engaged in sexual harassment”, though she did not name them.