Ethics committee confirms investigation of Franken

Sen. Al Franken
An Ohio woman says Sen. Al Franken groped her breast during a photo op.
Win McNamee | Getty Images 2010

Updated: 5:53 p.m. | Posted: 7:37 a.m.

The U.S. Senate's Ethics Committee announced Thursday that a preliminary inquiry has been opened into the accusations against Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

The one-paragraph statement from the committee signals the first concrete step toward investigating Franken's conduct amid multiple claims he groped or kissed women without their consent.

The Ethics Committee proceedings are typically kept quiet. But the six committee members — three Republicans and three Democrats — said in a joint statement they were publicly confirming the misconduct inquiry.

The statement gives no timetable for the investigation or whether additional information will be made public.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, had called for an ethics inquiry. Franken himself said he will cooperate with the investigation.

The announcement by the ethics committee ended a day that began with another allegation. A woman said Franken cupped her breast during a 2003 photo op while she was deployed in Kuwait, CNN reported.

Stephanie Kemplin of Maineville, Ohio, said she was stationed in the Middle East during the Iraq War and met Franken, a comedian at the time, while he was visiting troops with the USO. She's the fifth woman in the last two weeks to accuse the Democratic senator of misconduct.

Kemplin told CNN that when Franken put his arm around her, "he groped my right breast. He kept his hand all the way over on my breast."

She said the touching lasted between five to 10 seconds. "It was long enough that he should have known if it was an accident," she said.

Kemplin said she eventually turned her body to shift Franken's hand off her breast before their picture was taken.

She provided CNN a photo of the encounter, which does not show the contact from Franken she describes. But CNN reports Kemplin's sister and ex-boyfriend say she shared the incident privately at the time.

A Franken spokesperson said in a statement that he "takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.

Four other women have accused Franken of sexual misconduct in the last two weeks.

Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden said Franken forcibly kissed her on a USO tour in 2006. Tweeden also posted a photo of Franken smiling for the camera as he held his hands above her chest while she slept wearing a flak vest aboard a military plane on the same tour. Tweeden said she accepted Franken's written apology and is not calling on him to resign.

Lindsay Menz said Franken squeezed her buttocks in 2010 while posing for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair. Franken, who was a senator at time, said he didn't remember the picture but expressed remorse that Menz felt "disrespected."

Two other women also alleged that Franken touched their buttocks during events for his first campaign for Senate. The women spoke to Huffington Post on condition of anonymity.