An Army veteran is the latest woman to publicly accuse Sen. Al Franken of touching her inappropriately, saying the Minnesota Democrat groped her during a USO tour nearly 14 years ago.
Stephanie Kemplin told CNN that she was serving during the Iraq War when she met Franken and posed for a photo with the then-comedian in 2003, years before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
“When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast,” Kemplin told CNN. “He kept his hand all the way over on my breast. I’ve never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side.”
Several women have come forward with similar stories since broadcaster and model Leeann Tweeden said two weeks ago that Franken had “forcibly kissed” and groped her during a separate USO tour in 2006. Franken, who faced swift condemnation in Congress, apologized to Tweeden and called for a Senate ethics investigation into the allegations against him.
The accusations were made amid mounting sexual harassment and abuse claims against celebrities and other public figures – and amid a heated debated on Capitol Hill over how Congress should handle allegations involving lawmakers.
Franken and another Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, are facing calls to resign following accusations of sexual misconduct. Conyers is also the subject of an investigation by congressional ethics committees. And for weeks, Roy Moore, Alabama’s Republican candidate for the Senate, has come under fire for allegations of sexual misconduct, in some instances involving teenagers.
The latest allegations against Franken prompted an important call for his resignation from Guy Cecil, who ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2012 and 2014 campaigns and helped Franken win reelection three years ago.
The proclamation from Cecil, who runs the Priorities USA super PAC that boosted Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and is helping with 2018 Senate races, came minutes after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., broke ranks with Conyers and called for his resignation.
At least five women have accused Franken of sexual misconduct. Upon his return to Capitol Hill on Monday, Franken said he has “been trying to take responsibility by apologizing” to his accusers but has said he is not contemplating a resignation.
After Kemplin’s comments were published by CNN early Thursday morning, Franken’s office 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.”
The statement added Franken “remains fully committed to cooperating with the ethics investigation.”
In December 2003, Kemplin, who said she was a military police officer at the time serving in Kuwait, noted she waited her turn to meet Franken while he was visiting U.S. troops, according to CNN.
As Kemplin, then 27, posed for a photo with him, she said, he put his arm around her and grabbed her breast, holding onto her for up to 10 seconds.
“I remember clenching up and how you just feel yourself flushed,” she told CNN. “And I remember thinking – is he going to move his hand? Was it an accident? Was he going to move his hand? He never moved his hand.”
Kemplin, from Maineville, Ohio, said she turned slightly in an effort to make Franken move his hand.
She showed CNN the photo that was taken moments later.
According to the cable network, in the photo, Kemplin “is smiling widely with the left side of her face pressed against Franken’s right cheek. Franken’s right arm is wrapped around Kemplin’s back and his hand is on her side at chest-level, and does not appear to be on her breast in the photo.
“Looking back at the picture, Kemplin said she recalls feeling frozen and numb: ‘I did not process it in those split seconds.’ “
Now, many years later, Kemplin said that “I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture.”
“You’re immediately put on the spot. What are you going to do? What are you going to do? Your mind goes a mile a minute. Who was I going to tell?” the 41-year-old told CNN, saying she was too embarrassed to tell the other soldiers.
But Kemplin said she confided in her sister and an ex-boyfriend. That ex-boyfriend said that though he does not remember the specifics, he remembers Kemplin told him that Franken “went to put his arm around her and copped a feel.”
Tweeden, who was a Fox Sports Network correspondent and fitness model during her encounter with Franken in 2006, detailed her experience in a blog post, saying Franken had written skits for a USO show that, like others, were “full of sexual innuendo.”
She said the issue came up when Franken wanted to practice a kiss he had written into the script.
“On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL . . . we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’
“He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.
“He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘okay’ so he would stop badgering me. 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.”
On Thursday, Kemplin told CNN that when she saw Tweeden’s story, she “felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me.”
Kemplin said she later contacted Tweeden and decided to speak out, too.