The woman who came forward Thursday to accuse Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of groping and inappropriately kissing her in 2006 forged her career at the intersection of sports television hosting, racy modeling and military charity work.
Leeann Tweeden, 44, said Franken grabbed her breasts while she was sleeping and "forcibly kissed" her on a USO tour to the Middle East, where the two performed as part of a program intended to boost U.S. troop morale. Franken, then a well-known comedian who had not yet run for public office, apologized Thursday and called for an investigation into his actions by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Tweeden is the first woman to accuse a sitting member of Congress of sexual assault on the record since the publication of a New York Times investigation into allegations of serial abuse by movie producer Harvey Weinstein. The story sparked national debate about sexual harassment in the workplace and has prompted a reckoning on Capitol Hill, where female members of Congress have mobilized to stop what they called pervasive inappropriate sexual behavior.
The accusation against Franken thrust Tweeden into the national media spotlight.
In several television interviews Thursday, including a lengthy appearance on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper," Tweeden said she felt compelled to tell her story after the Weinstein scandal and a recent decision by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to disclose that she was assaulted as a young congressional aide.
"The times have changed," Tweeden told a local Fox News affiliate. "I wanted to come out with the story when I got home 10 years ago. I was discouraged from doing that, and I thought it would hurt my career."
A native of Manassas, Va., Tweeden decided in her late teens to pursue modeling, according to a short biographical feature on Playboy.com. She worked as a catalogue lingerie model for Frederick's of Hollywood and posed for magazines such as Maxim, Playboy, Stuff and FHM, a now-defunct men's lifestyle glossy based in the United Kingdom.
Around that time, according to her social media feeds, she was absorbed by the world of niche sports television coverage, hosting or appearing on shows about mixed martial arts, poker, auto racing and skateboarding.
Tweeden participated in her first USO tour in 2002, according to a 2014 profile in Military Spouse. She has completed at least 16 tours, including more than a dozen to visit troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"My father served in the Air Force during Vietnam, and I grew up in a household where I was very proud to be an American," she told troops at Balad Air Base in Iraq on Dec. 14, 2004, according to an online dispatch published by the U.S. Air Force.
"I am proud and honored to come over here and bring you a little bit of entertainment and say thank you," she said.
Tweeden met her husband, a retired Air Force pilot, on a USO tour, she told Military Spouse. She and her family now live in Los Angeles.
Little about her background suggests a primary interest in politics. But Tweeden has described herself as "fiscally conservative," told one interviewer she voted twice for President George W. Bush and appeared semi-regularly on Fox News's Sean Hannity Show in 2011 and 2012.
"How will you feel 20 years from now and your kids look at these pictures?" Hannity asked her in November 2011, referring to her Playboy spreads.
"I'm proud of it," she said. "I'm 40 and I looked that good and I was proud of it."