President Donald Trump has yet to comment on sexual misconduct allegations against Senate candidate Roy Moore (who has denied the numerous accusations that he acted inappropriately with teenage women), but Trump didn’t waste much time in responding to claims made against Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).
“The Al Frankenstien [sic] picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday. “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?” (There is no “Lesley Stahl tape,” as Trump claims in his tweet, but a widely circulated quote made by Franken in a 1995 New York magazine story about Saturday Night Live, where the former show writer joked about Stahl being raped while writing a sketch focused on Andy Rooney and 60 Minutes.)
On Thursday, broadcaster Leeann Tweeden claimed Franken had touched her breasts as she was sleeping while the two were on a USO Tour to entertain troops in December 2006. (Tweeden posted a photo along with her story, which showed Franken appearing to put his hands on her chest.)
“It wasn’t until I was back in the U.S. and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one,” she wrote in a piece for KABC. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?” Tweeden also claimed Franken kissed her without consent while rehearsing a sketch he wrote for the USO tour. (The alleged incident happened before Franken was elected senator.)
In response, Franken apologized to Tweeden for his behavior.
“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,” 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.”
Of the photo, Franken added, “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.”
He continued, “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 he apologized for the photo, Franken claimed he didn’t “remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does.” But, he added, “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”
Tweeden accepted Franken’s apology. “The apology, sure, I accept it,” she said. “People make mistakes and of course he knew he made a mistake.”
Trump was quickly criticized online for his attack on Franken, as the President of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women (including a reporter for PEOPLE magazine) — claims the president has denied. Critics also cited Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, where he boasted about fame allowing him to “do anything” to women. “Grab them by the p—y,” Trump said in the 2005 video. “You can do anything.”