Reed, Whitehouse say Franken groping accusation must be investigated

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci/Alex Brandon)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s two Democratic U.S. senators both said Thursday they support an investigation into a newscaster’s allegation that their colleague Al Franken groped and kissed her a decade ago.

The woman, Leeann Tweeden, posted her account on KABC Radio’s website, along with a photo of Franken touching her breasts. She said the incident happened during a USO tour in 2006, two years before Franken was elected as a Democratic senator from Minnesota. Franken quickly apologized in a statement.

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse both have relationships with Franken from their shared service in Congress and membership in the same party. Franken headlined a Washington fundraiser to benefit Whitehouse’s re-election campaign earlier this year, according to the Center on Responsive Politics.

On Thursday, the two senators each said the Senate Ethics Committee needs to examine Tweeden’s story.

“Sexual harassment and sexual assault are unacceptable and must not be tolerated. Period,” Reed said.

“It took courage for the individual who came forward with these allegations to do so, and she deserves to be heard, believed, and treated with respect,” he continued. “I hope the Senate Ethics Committee will do a swift and thorough investigation and publicly share their findings.”

“We can’t just look away from these types of incidents,” Reed added. “We need to change the culture that has too often enabled or permitted sexual harassment and assault. It is on all of us as a society.”

Whitehouse issued a shorter statement of his own, saying: “Allegations of sexual assault or harassment by any member of Congress, like those against Senator Franken, must be taken seriously and investigated fully by the Ethics Committee.”

Earlier in the day Whitehouse had been the subject of a brief but ferocious backlash on social media after an ABC News journalist tweeted that he had dismissed the Franken allegations in response to a question from reporters. She later deleted the tweet, saying it was inaccurate.

Rhode Island’s delegation has already been contributing to the debate over Congress and sexual harassment in a different way: Kristin Nicholson, longtime former chief of staff to Democratic Congressman Jim Langevin, has been attracting national attention in recent days for her strong statements about the need to take action over the problem.

Separately on Thursday, newly announced Republican U.S. Senate candidate Robert Flanders said he believes Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore should withdraw from the race there because of multiple allegations that he committed sexual misconduct with underage girls. Flanders is seeking to unseat Whitehouse in 2018.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook