Franken releases new statement, calls for ethics investigation of himself

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls #MeToo era shows there's almost never only one accuser, says Hill.TV's Krystal Ball Hypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC MORE (D-Minn.) is calling for an ethics investigation into his own behavior after a woman accused him of kissing and groping her without consent.

Franken in an expanded statement on Thursday apologized for the incident, in which he groped television host and sports broadcaster Leeann Tweeden while she was asleep on a military plane during a 2006 USO tour.

“I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences,” he said. “I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.”

In a piece on KABC, Tweeden published a photo of Franken groping her breasts while they were both on a USO tour. She also wrote that Franken forcibly kissed her while they were rehearsing a sketch for a performance. 

Franken initially issued a brief, three-sentence statement, in which he said he didn't remember the rehearsal for the skit "in the same way."

In that statement, he wrote that he sent "my sincerest apologies to Leeann," and said he should not have taken the photo, which he described as "clearly intended to be funny."

The second statement came after Franken faced criticism from across the political spectrum that his first statement did not represent a real apology.

“The first and most important thing—and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine—is: I'm sorry,” he wrote in the new statement. 

“I respect women.  I don't respect men who don’t,” Franken continued. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

Franken doubled down on his claim that he does not remember the rehearsal for the skit “in the same way” as Tweeden.

But he said Tweeden "deserved to be heard."

“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,” Franken 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.”

Franken has come under intense criticism from his own colleagues, many of whom also called for an ethics investigation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada Google says senators' Gmail accounts targeted by foreign hackers MORE (D-Mo.) have called for an investigation into the allegations.

The controversy is also erupting as Democrats have trained their fire on Alabama Senate GOP candidate Roy Moore, who is battling accusations of sexual misconduct, including assault, brought by a number of women. The accusers say that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

McConnell has said Moore will face an immediate ethics investigation if elected.

The accusations against Franken also come amid a push to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. 

On Wednesday, two female lawmakers introduced the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress (ME TOO Congress) Act, which would overhaul how Congress deals with such allegations.

At a hearing on Tuesday, female lawmakers came forward with their own stories about being harassed.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who is spearheading the bill with Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandTeen girls pen open letter supporting Kavanaugh accuser: We imagine you at that party and 'see ourselves' Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — GOP again has momentum on Kavanaugh rollercoaster MORE (D-N.Y.), said at the hearing that two current lawmakers have been accused of sexual harassment, but declined to identify them out of concern for the victims.

“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,” Franken’s statement Thursday said.

Here is Franken's statement in full:

“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.”

 

This breaking news report was updated at 1:18 p.m.