WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken personally apologized to the woman who has accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour, saying he remembers their encounter differently but is “ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you.”
In a guest appearance Friday on ABC’s “The View,” Leeann Tweeden read a letter she received from the Democratic lawmaker in which he also discussed a photo showing him posing in a joking manner, smiling at the camera with his hands above her chest as she naps wearing a flak vest aboard a military plane.
Franken missed votes in the Senate Thursday afternoon and has not made any public appearances since the allegations came out.
Both had been performing for military personnel in Afghanistan two years before the one-time “Saturday Night Live” comedian was elected to the Senate. Tweeden, a former Fox TV sports correspondent who now is a Los Angeles radio anchor, has said Franken had persisted in rehearsing a kiss and “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
Franken told Tweeden in the letter he wanted to “apologize to you personally,” adding: “I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture. But that doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I understand why you can feel violated by that photo. … I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO. And I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry.’”
Franken, 66, was the latest public figure to be caught in the deluge of revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have crushed careers, ruined reputations and prompted criminal investigations in Hollywood, business and beyond.
While Franken has repeatedly apologized, there were no signs the issue would go away any time soon. Fellow Democrats swiftly condemned his actions, mindful of the current climate as well as the prospect of political blowback in next year’s elections.
Republicans, still forced to answer for the multiple allegations facing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, joined in pressing for an investigation. Franken said he would welcome it.
Franken abruptly canceled a sold-out book festival appearance scheduled for Monday in Atlanta, festival organizers said. He had been scheduled to speak and promote his book, “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.”
Tweeden posted her allegations, including a photo of Franken and her, Thursday on the website of KABC, where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show.
On Friday, Tweeden said she didn’t come forward with the hope that Franken would step down. “That’s not my call,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” ″I think that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide.”
Franken faces re-election in 2020.
Meanwhile, a Minnesota woman and rape survivor who worked with Franken to craft legislation for fellow survivors said Friday the senator should take his name off the bill. Abby Honold, 22, who was raped by a fellow University of Minnesota student in 2014, called Franken’s conduct disappointing and said someone else should champion the bill.
Eight women who worked for Franken in the Senate vouched for him, saying in a joint statement Friday that he treated them “with the utmost respect.”
In a statement Thursday, Franken apologized to Tweeden and his constituents while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently. Tweeden said she accepted his apology.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” Franken said. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”
President Donald Trump, who has faced his own allegations of sexual misconduct, ridiculed Franken in tweets Thursday night: “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? ….. And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”
Trump has been publicly silent about the allegations against Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s special Senate election. Through a spokeswoman, he called the allegations of sexual misconduct against the former judge “very troubling” but stopped short of calling on Moore to drop out.
Trump once boasted that as a celebrity “you can do anything,” speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. More than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, claims Trump denies.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday: “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the president hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction.”
The accusations against Franken come just days after the Senate unanimously adopted mandatory sexual harassment training for members and staffs amid a flood of stories about harassment, sexual misconduct and gender hostility from staffers, aides and even female elected officials.
Franken’s fellow Minnesota Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, condemned Franken’s behavior. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, facing a tough re-election next year, said, “Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.”
Associated Press writers Kyle Potter and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.