By Herman Wong
President Donald Trump took aim at longtime critic Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., on Thursday night, after Franken was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a woman 11 years ago.
“The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” Trump tweeted, adding in a second tweet that Franken had last week been “lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”
Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden said that during a USO trip to the Middle East and Afghanistan in 2006 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.”
Some responded to Trump’s tweets by citing the allegations against the president.
Ezra Klein tweeted “Trump has more than a dozen, on-the-record, allegations of sexual assault against him, and was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault. This is a dangerous game for him to play.”
Daniel W. Drezner tweeted “So true. Can you imagine if he’d said something on an audiotape about grabbing part of a woman’s anatomy?”
Eleven women came forward during Trump’s presidential campaign to accuse him of sexual misconduct over several decades.
Trump has dismissed these claims as “fake news,” and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said that all the women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment are lying.
Hours before Trump tweeted about Franken, Sanders told reporters that Trump did not plan to rescind his endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused by several women of sexual 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 dismissing calls from GOP leaders to end his Senate campaign after The Washington 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.
A “Lesley Stahl tape” Trump mentioned in his second tweet refers to a New York Magazine story about a “Saturday Night Live” writers discussion where Franken suggests a joke about raping Leslie Stahl, a “60 Minutes” correspondent.
Franken is quoted in New York Magazine 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 come 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.”
Franken tweeted “The women who have shared their stories about Harvey Weinstein over the last few days are incredibly brave. . . .”
Franken tweeted “Thx to courageous ppl who’ve shared #MeToo stories, incl. @SenatorHeitkamp, @maziehirono, @clairecmc, & @SenWarren”
After Tweeden’s accusations, Franken faced bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation.
“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, N.Y., said in a statement.