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Republicans and Democrats, including Sen. Al Franken, called for an ethics investigation after the Minnesota Democrat acknowledged Thursday that he groped a journalist Leeann Tweeden during a 2006 U.S.O. tour.
Tweeden wrote of the encounter in a post published Thursday morning. She described how Franken, who was working as a comedian on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" at the time, forcefully tried to kiss her during a rehearsal for a skit the two performed before U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East. At the time, Tweeden was working as a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model. A few days later, Franken also posed for a photo while groping her breasts while she was asleep in a military transport plane.
We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth. I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn't be so nice about it the next time. I walked away. 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.
Following the publication of Tweeden's account, Franken issued a brief apology.
"I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann," he said in a statement. "As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."
But a few hours later, amid mounting calls for an ethics probe, he issued a longer mea culpa.
"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," Franken said. "I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate."
He added: "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."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his Democratic counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that the Ethics Committee should investigate.
"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."
Tweeden is a now news anchor on KABC Radio in Los Angeles. Her account comes amid a cascade of allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men in the entertainment industry, including producer Harvey Weinstein and comedian Louis C.K.
It also dovetails with an enormous uproar embroiling Republicans over allegations of sexual misconduct against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
McConnell has said he believes Moore's accusers, and urged Moore to drop his Senate bid in the Dec. 12 special election in Alabama.
Moore has refused to stand down. He unequivocally denies the allegations by nine women who say he pursued inappropriate sexual relationships with them. Most of the women were teenagers at the time Moore pursued them in the late 1970s and early '80s. Two of the women allege that Moore sexually assaulted them.
Disclosure: NBC and CNBC are owned by Comcast's NBCUniversal unit.