Democratic Sen. Al Franken was accused Wednesday of sexual assault, just one day after he rebuked one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees for purportedly failing to respect a trans high school student in a 2014 tweet.
Leeann Tweeden, a television host who toured with Franken for the USO, said the senator forcibly kissed her before a show in the Middle East in December 2006, and later groped her breasts while she was sleeping. Her bombshell story features a picture of Franken grabbing her chest.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Tweeden wrote. “He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep. I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.”
“How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?” she added.
Just one day before the allegations and attending photo surfaced, the senator grilled Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, a nominee to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, about a 2014 tweet involving a trans high school student from California, who was authorized to play on a high school softball team. The student, a biological male, identifies as female.
— Judge Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) February 14, 2014
Willett said the tweet was a topical and timely reference to Alex Rodriguez’s suspension for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez dropped his legal fight against the suspension just days before Willett’s tweet, though he admitted the tweet was — at best — a ham-handed joke.
The justice’s Twitter feed largely concerns civic engagement, hokey dad jokes about Texas or Chick Fil A, and pro-America gifs. His use of the platform has been cited by legal ethicists as a standard other digitally-active jurists should emulate.
But Franken was indignant. He told the justice that he didn’t believe the explanation, and accused Willett of purposefully deriding trans persons.
“I don’t entirely believe you,” Franken said. “I think this was meant to be hurtful. I think it was meant to deride a young woman.”
“I don’t know how else anyone with any kind of intelligence can interpret this other than it was a tweet of derision,” he added.
For his part, Franken denied forcing himself on Tweeden during the tour, but apologized for the photo, echoing the Willett statements he admonished just one day prior.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said in a statement. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
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