The president’s first tweet landed exactly 12 hours after radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden publicly declared: “Al Franken kissed and groped me without my consent.”
Tweeden, a former fitness model and sportscaster, said that in 2006, on a USO trip to the Middle East and Afghanistan, Franken forced his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a skit and then groped her while she was sleeping during a flight home — a moment that was captured in a photograph.
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” she wrote in an online essay published Thursday morning. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.”
Franken, who drew swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday, apologized twice and encouraged the Senate Ethics Committee to review Tweeden’s allegations against him, saying, “I will gladly cooperate.”
Allegations about Trump’s behavior toward women became an issue early in his candidacy and lingered for months, exploding in October 2016 when The Washington Post published the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which he boasted in vulgar terms about kissing women and grabbing them by the genitals. The then-GOP nominee called the remarks “locker-room banter,” adding: “I apologize if anyone was offended.”
Days later, on NBC’s “Late Night,” Franken said: “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms. I belong to a health club in Minneapolis — you can tell. Our locker room banter is stuff like, ‘Is Trump crazy?’”
He added: “I think these stories are going to make it hard for Trump to focus on his message that he knows nothing about public policy.”
Eleven women came forward during Trump’s presidential campaign to accuse him of unwanted touching or kissing over several decades. Trump called the charges “pure fiction” and “fake news” and referred to the women as “horrible, horrible liars.”
Polls showed that a clear majority of voters came to believe that Trump had committed the kind of behavior described by his accusers. But the specific allegations did little to budge an electorate that had become almost tribal in its divisions.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last month that all the women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment are lying.
Hours before Trump tweeted about Franken, Sanders told reporters that the president did not plan to rescind his endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused by several women of misconduct.
“The president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be,” Sanders told reporters at a briefing.
Moore has dismissed calls from GOP leaders to end his Senate campaign after The Post reported allegations that he initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32.
Trump has not mentioned Moore in public comments and tweets, and has ignored reporters’ questions about the allegations.
The “Lesley Stahl tape” Trump mentioned in his second tweet refers to a New York magazine story about a “Saturday Night Live” writers discussion in which Franken suggested a joke about raping Leslie Stahl, a “60 Minutes” correspondent.
Franken was quoted as saying: “And, ‘I give the pills to Lesley Stahl. Then, when Lesley’s passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her.’ Or, ‘That’s why you never see Lesley until February.’ Or, ‘When she passes out, I put her in various positions and take pictures of her.’ ”
Accusations of Franken’s misconduct came just two days after a candid hearing in Washington, during which female lawmakers said sexual harassment is a pervasive problem on Capitol Hill.
Last week, the Senate unanimously approved a bill that mandates sexual harassment training for all senators and their staffs.
After initially issuing a brief apology for his behavior, Franken released a lengthier statement expressing contrition.
“I’m sorry,” said the senator, who skipped a series of votes Thursday. “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.”
Tweeden said she accepted Franken’s apology.
“Yes, people make mistakes, and, of course, he knew he made a mistake,” she said at a news conference in Los Angeles, where she works as a news anchor for the radio station KABC. She said she would leave any disciplinary action up to Senate leaders and was not calling for Franken to step down. “That’s up to them. I’m not demanding that.”
Franken’s alleged misconduct occurred not long after he had moved home to Minnesota from New York, and was already positioning himself to run for Senate in 2008, a race that he narrowly won after a recount.
Franken has made numerous statements in support of women who experience sexual misconduct and has worked on legislation to support sexual assault accusers.
After the New York Times reported decades of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Franken posted on Facebook that Weinstein’s behavior is “far too common.” And he called the women sharing #MeToo stories about sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct “courageous.”
Paul Kane, Jenna Johnson, Amy B Wang, Lindsey Bever, Karen Tumulty and Mark Berman contributed to this post, which has been updated.