McConnell Wants Ethics Probe of Franken in Groping Case

McConnell Wants Ethics Probe of Franken in Groping Case
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Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into accusations that Sen. Al Franken groped and kissed a model and television host without consent during a USO tour in 2006.

"As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter," McConnell said Thursday. "I hope the Democratic leader will join me on this. Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable -- in the workplace or anywhere else."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, agreed. In a statement, he called sexual harassment “never acceptable” and added, “I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment.”

Leeann Tweeden said she and Franken were traveling together in December of 2006 to perform for troops, and that the then-comedian wrote a skit that called for them to kiss on stage. Tweeden said she intended to turn away or block the kiss during the skit, but Franken insisted they rehearse it backstage, and forced himself on her.

“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 in a piece for KABC Thursday morning. “I immediately pushed him away with both my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”

As the tour traveled back to Los Angeles after their performances, Tweeden said Franken groped her chest while she was sleeping without her consent. Her post on the KABC website included a picture of Franken smiling at a camera as he grabs her chest while she is wearing a Kevlar vest and military helmet.

Franken, in an initial statement Thursday, apologized for the actions.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done that.”

The Minnesota lawmaker issued a lengthier statement hours later, saying he will "gladly cooperate" with an ethics investigation into his behavior.

"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," he said. 

Of the photograph, he said there was "no excuse" and he feels "disgusted with myself" looking at it.

"It isn't funny," Franken added. "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."

Sen. Claire McCaskill issued a statement Thursday saying that “comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.” The Missouri Democrat called the behavior “completely unacceptable.”

The accusations against Franken are the latest in a string of high-profile reports of sexual assault and harassment against men in politics and media. Over the last week, more than half a dozen women have accused Republican Roy Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama, of sexual assault and inappropriate actions decades ago when they were teenagers.  Earlier this week, lawmakers held a high-profile hearing to acknowledge that sexual assault is a rampant problem on Capitol Hill.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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