A group of women who have worked for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) defended their former boss’ treatment of women following a radio anchor’s bombshell allegation that he inappropriately kissed and groped her in separate incidents.
“Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington,” eight woman said in a statement released Friday. “In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.”
Franken created a “safe and supportive” work environment, Alexandra Fetissoff, who worked for Franken in a variety of positions from 2009 until 2014, told HuffPost in an email.
“Equity in our office was just a constant,” she said. “I started with him as a press assistant and left as communications director on the campaign side and at every step of the way, he listened to my guidance and asked for my opinions. So much of what we did as an office focused on trying to create workplaces for other women that reflected our own — and that all came from Al.”
Natalie Volin Lehr, who worked for Franken from 2007 until 2013, said she had “absolute faith in his recollection of events.”
“This isn’t the Al Franken I know,” Lehr told HuffPost in response to the misconduct allegations.
“I worked for him for 7 years, several of which were focused on women’s outreach and related policy work,” she said. “He is a staunch supporter of women’s rights, and I am proud to have worked for him on his campaign, in his Senate office, and on his leadership PAC. He has continued to demonstrate his commitment to empowering women through both his policy work and placement of women in leadership positions in all of his organizations.”
Franken performed on a USO tour in December 2006 ― when he was still a comedian ― with sportscaster and anchor Leeann Tweeden. He wrote a skit that involved a kissing scene, Tweeden said Thursday, and asked to practice beforehand, at which point she said he kissed her forcefully.
“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,” Tweeden said.
Photos show a grinning Franken with his hands on her chest as she slept on the plane ride home.
Franken issued an apology on Thursday and called for an ethics investigation of his own behavior.
“I respect women,” Franken said in a statement. “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.”
This article has been updated with comments from Fetissoff and Lehr.