Al Franken Agrees to Ethics Investigation After Groping Accusation

"I respect women," says Minnesota Senator. "The fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed"

Minnesota Senator Al Franken agreed to participate in an ethics investigation after being accused of groping a radio host. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

Minnesota senator Al Franken said he would cooperate with an ethics investigation after radio/TV host Leeann Tweeden accused the then-comedian of "forcibly" kissing and groping her without her consent during a USO Tour in December 2006.

In a statement, Franken apologized to Tweeden, the other USO performers and his constituents for his actions. "I respect women," Franken said. "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."

According to Tweeden, Franken forcibly kissed her while they rehearsed a skit the comedian had written for the two of them. The skit had called for a kiss, which Tweeden said she figured she could avoid onstage, but backstage she claimed Franken "put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth." Additionally, as the members of the USO Tour flew back to the United States from Afghanistan, a photographer took a photo of Franken grabbing Tweeden's chest while she slept.

While Franken claimed he did not "remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leann [did]," he added that he understood the "need to listen to and believe women's experiences." He said of the photograph: "I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse. 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. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it – women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me."

Franken also spoke about his background in comedy – he was a longtime writer and performer on Saturday Night Live – and coming to realize that many of the jokes he once thought were funny "were just plain offensive." He added: "But the intentions behind my actions aren't the point at all. It's the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I'm sorry it's taken me so long to come to terms with that."

Following the publication of Tweeden's account, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an ethics review, which Franken has since seconded. Several of Franken's Democratic colleagues, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Missouri's Claire McCaskill, Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren have also called for an ethics review.

"Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated," Schumer wrote 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."

McCaskill added: "I'm shocked and concerned," she said. "The behavior described is completely unacceptable. Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation."

"I strongly condemn this behavior," Klobuchar said. "This is another example of why we need to change work environments and reporting practices across the nation, including in Congress."

"Woman who come forward are brave and deserve to be respected," Warren said. "We're not going to fix the problems of sexual harassment and assault until men take responsibility for their actions and change their behavior." 

Franken closed his statement by apologizing again and urging people to continue taking the harassment and assault claims of women seriously. "And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories," he said. "They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them."

Al Franken Statement on Groping Allegations

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. 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.

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.

But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us – including and especially men who respect women – have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.

For instance, that picture. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse. 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. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it – women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.

Coming from the world of comedy, I've told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren't the point at all. It's the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I'm sorry it's taken me so long to come to terms with that.

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

I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.

And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.