All-American woman model, TV host, USO darling and military wife Leean Tweeden is speaking out against Democratic Senator Al Franken, accusing him of forcing himself upon her during a USO tour and groping her while on a USO tour- the latter incident being substantiated with photographic evidence.
Married (with children) to a US Air Force pilot currently serving in the California Air National Guard, Tweeden has had an illustrious career as a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy.
However, Tweeden has -amidst many others- decided to speak up against the Minnesota senator, recalling a time during a USO tour when he sexually harassed her not once, but twice.
“In December of 2006, I embarked on my ninth USO Tour to entertain our troops, my eighth to the Middle East since the 9/11 attacks,” Tweeden wrote in an op-ed. “My father served in Vietnam and my then-boyfriend (and now husband, Chris) is a pilot in the Air Force, so bringing a ‘little piece of home’ to servicemembers stationed far away from their families was both my passion and my privilege.”
Headlining the show was Franken, who at the time was a comedian and would later become a senator. Thinking it would be funny to write her into his act, Franken wrote a moment in the skit where his character tries to kiss Tweeden.
“When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss,’” she recalled. “I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.”
However, when the day of the show rolled around, Franken insisted on practicing the kiss, despite her objections. Wanting him to let it go and growing more uncomfortable by the minute, she finally agreed.
“He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me,” she said. “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,” she added. “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. Not long after, I performed the skit as written, carefully turning my head so he couldn’t kiss me on the lips.”
How cool is this #tbt pic from @cmayo_80?! This is at the Iraq border in June of 2003. That is actress Brittany Murphy on the left…RIP my sweet girl. Just want to say thank you to Chris for posting this photo and thank you for your service! #oorah #semperfi #vanityfairusotour #Repost from @cmayo_80 — OIF I 2003. #veteransday
Looking back, Tweeden laments that she didn’t say anything to the event’s organizers.
“At the time I didn’t want to cause trouble,” she said. “We were in the middle of a war zone, it was the first show of our Holiday tour, I was a professional, and I could take care of myself. I told a few of the others on the tour what Franken had done and they knew how I felt about it. I tried to let it go, but I was angry.”
However, that wasn’t the end of it. Despite steering clear away from Franken for the rest of the tour, the future senator’s inappropriate behavior would show itself, long after the tour had ended and he had harassed Tweeden a second time.
“The tour wrapped and on Christmas Eve we began the 36-hour trip home to L.A,” she wrote. “After 2 weeks of grueling travel and performing I was exhausted. When our C-17 cargo plane took off from Afghanistan I immediately fell asleep, even though I was still wearing my flak vest and Kevlar helmet.”
Later, upon browsing a CD of photos taken during the tour, she would find a photo of Franken groping her breasts through her body armor- as she slept.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” she recounted. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
“I told my husband everything that happened and showed him the picture,” she added.
According to her op-ed on the KABC website (where she is an anchor), she originally did not speak up because of potential backlash to her career.
“I’m still angry at what Al Franken did to me, she said. “Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour. I am angry that I didn’t call him out in front of everyone when I had the microphone in my hand every night after that. I wanted to.
“But I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was there to entertain the troops and make sure they forgot about where they were for a few hours. Someday, I thought to myself, I would tell my story. That day is now.”
“Senator Franken, you wrote the script,” she concluded. “But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
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