Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota apologized and asked for an ethics investigation of his actions after a Los Angeles newscaster Thursday accused him of groping and aggressively kissing her in 2006, two years before he was elected.
“The first thing I want to do I apologize,” Franken said in a statement. “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.”
Hours earlier, former TV host and Playboy model Leeann Tweeden said, while traveling with Franken on a goodwill trip to entertain American troops in the Middle East, Franken “kissed and groped me without my consent, and there's nothing funny about it.”
Tweeden said she and Franken, who was a popular television comedian and writer in 2006, were rehearsing a skit that called for him to kiss her. She said he aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
In an article posted on Los Angeles radio station KABC’s website, Tweeden said, “All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth. I felt disgusted and violated.”
Later, as the U.S. entourage was flying back to the United States, Tweeden said she fell asleep, during which time a photo was taken of a smiling Franken grabbing her breasts.
“I couldn't believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” she said. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it's funny?”
The photo has already been widely broadcast on television news networks.
“I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter,” Franken said. “There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate.”
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, called for an ethics investigation of Franken, and the Minnesota senator concurred.
“I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate,” Franken said.
Fellow senators were quick to weigh in.
WATCH: US Senator in Trouble After Being Accused of Sexual Harassment in 2006
“I am deeply disappointed,” said Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto in a statement. “This type of behavior is unacceptable for any public official. I support the Ethics Committee process and investigation into this inappropriate conduct and look forward to hearing more from my colleague on this matter.”
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter,” McConnell said in a statement. “Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Allegations of unwanted sexual advances are also at the center of a special Senate election Dec. 12 in the southern state of Alabama. Multiple women have accused Republican candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct decades ago when they were teenagers and he was a local prosecutor in his 30s.
Moore Thursday again said the allegations are false and that his accusers have no evidence. He called it an effort by “McConnell and his cronies to steal this election from the people of Alabama.”
The White House says President Donald Trump finds the accusations against Moore “very troubling” and should be taken seriously. The White House says Trump believes it is up to the people of Alabama to decide whether Moore deserves a seat in the Senate, but believes Moore ought to step aside if the allegations are proven true.
Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers are advancing legislation that would require the entire Congress and staff members to take anti-sexual harassment training.
In recent weeks, women across the U.S., and some men, have publicly disclosed they have over decades been victims of sexual harassment, most often at the hands of powerful people in their workplace who had control over their career advancement. The barrage of complaints ensued after more than 50 women, most of them Hollywood actors, accused powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein of unwanted sexual advances.
VOA's Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.