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Published: Thursday, November 16, 2017 @ 11:39 AM
Updated: Thursday, November 16, 2017 @ 2:38 PM
— Update 2:37 p.m. Nov. 16: Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, on Thursday called for an ethics investigation of himself after a Los Angeles news anchor came forward with allegations that he kissed her forcibly and groped her as she slept during a USO tour in 2006.
Leeann Tweeden on Thursday shared an image taken on the trip back to the U.S. at the end of the tour. Franken can be seen smiling up at the camera as his hands hover over her chest.
"I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter," Franken said in a statement released Thursday. "There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture."
He said that he would “gladly cooperate” with an ethics investigation into the incident.
"The truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories," he said. "They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.”
Update 11:58 a.m. Nov. 16: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an Ethics Committee investigation after a Los Angeles news anchor accused Sen. Al Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent in 2006.
“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter. I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this,” McConnell said, according to Politico. “Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable – in the workplace or anywhere else.”
Leeann Tweeden wrote in a blog post for KABC that Franken “forcibly kissed” her and groped her as she slept during a USO tour in December 2006. Franken was an Air America radio host at the time. He was voted into office in 2008.
Franken apologized to Tweeden in a statement Thursday.
Original report: A Los Angeles news anchor and sports broadcaster on Thursday accused Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, of “forcibly kissing” her and groping her as she was asleep during a USO tour in 2006.
In a blog post for KABC, Leeann Tweeden wrote that Franken, who was a radio host for Air America at the time, forced himself on her as they were practicing a skit he wrote for the tour.
She said that, as the show’s emcee, she hadn’t expected to do more than introduce the acts, “but Franken said he had written a part for me that he thought would be funny, and I agreed to play along.”
“When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss,’” Tweeden wrote. “I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.”
She said he badgered her to practice the kiss scene, and that she eventually agreed, despite her discomfort.
“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,” she wrote. “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”
She said that after the incident, she made sure not to be alone with Franken again.
“I felt disgusted and violated,” she wrote. “No one saw what happened backstage. I didn’t tell the sergeant major of the Army, who was the sponsor of the tour. I didn’t tell our USO rep what happened.”
She said she focused on entertaining the troops and didn’t speak up because she “didn’t want to cause trouble.”
“We were in the middle of a war zone, it was the first show of our holiday tour, I was a professional and I could take care of myself,” she wrote. “I told a few of the others on the tour what Franken had done, and they knew how I felt about it.”
She said that it wasn’t until she was looking through a CD of photos from the tour that she learned that Franken had groped her while she was asleep. She shared a photo of the incident, which showed her sleeping in a flak vest and Kevlar helmet as Franken’s hands hovered over her chest.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” she wrote. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
Franken apologized for the incident in a statement Thursday.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny, but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Tweeden said she decided to come forward because “there may be others.”
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2018 @ 1:00 AM
After operating for more than a year with a temporary chief, NASA faces an unprecedented leadership bind as its acting Administrator announced this week that he would retire at the end of April, with no hint that the Senate will vote by then on President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the space agency.
“It has been a long process but we are optimistic that the vote will come soon,” said Sheryl Kaufman, the Communications Director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).
“We hope that happens soon,” said Rep. Bruce Babin (R-TX), as House Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence pressed the Senate for action on Bridenstine.
The problem for Bridenstine is that just one Republican has refused to support him for the job as NASA Administrator – that being Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – and with only a bare majority, and the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Bridenstine does not have the votes to win.
Since President Trump took office in January of 2017, NASA has been led by Robert Lightfoot, a well-respected NASA veteran who has drawn bipartisan praise.
But with Lightfoot announcing this week that he is retiring – effective April 30 – it’s possible that NASA could be forced to dig deeper down the depth chart for another temporary leader at the space agency.
“Robert Lightfoot has served NASA exceptionally well for nearly 30 years,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the head of the House Science Committee.
Apart from a couple of major issues, Bridenstine in 2017 did not cast votes on regular legislation in the House – while waiting for his Senate confirmation.
This year has been different – Bridenstine is voting on most legislation in the House, except for measures that deal with NASA.
“He will represent his constituents as fully as possible while awaiting the confirmation vote by the full Senate,” said his spokeswoman.
But without enough support, there’s no hint of a vote on Bridenstine in the Senate.
“The facts of this nomination have not changed,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) back in January – and two months later, that statement is still true.
Published: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:57 PM
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 3:48 PM
Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump and his associates, according to multiple reports.
The subpoena is the first directly connected to one of Trump’s businesses, The New York Times reported Thursday. The newspaper was the first to report on the subpoena, citing two unidentified sources briefed on the situation.
The breadth of the subpoena was not immediately clear, although some documents sought were related to Russia, the Times reported. According to the newspaper, the subpoena was served “in recent weeks.”
The Trump Organization has already provided investigators with a range of documents, most focused on the period between when Trump announced his candidacy for president, in June 2015, to his inauguration, in January 2017, CNN reported in January. Citing an unidentified source familiar with the situation, the news network reported that the recently issued subpoena was meant “to ‘clean up’ and to ensure that all related documents are handed over to the special counsel.”
In a statement released to several news outlets Thursday, Alan Futerfas, an attorney representing the Trump Organization, said reports of the subpoena were “old news.”
“Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the special counsel, and is responding to their requests,” Futerfas said. “This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.”
The decision to subpoena the Trump Organization, which is owned by the president and managed by his children, appeared to mirror the strategy employed by Mueller with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper noted that the campaign “voluntarily gave documents to the special counsel for months before receiving a subpoena in October.”
Mueller, who headed the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was appointed by the Justice Department in May 2017 to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. His investigation has thus far led to several indictments and a handful of guilty pleas from people connected to Trump.
Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities last month on accusations that they interfered with American elections and political processes, starting in 2014. On Twitter, Trump claimed that information in the indictments proved his innocence on allegations of colluding with Russia to win the election.
Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2018 @ 10:07 AM
In the aftermath of a whirlwind two-day trip to Puerto Rico, Rep. Brad Wenstrup will push for but the active duty and reservists to help assist in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
Wenstrup, a Cincinnati Republican who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and who is an Army Reservist, flew into Puerto Rico last Sunday for a field hearing on the VA’s role in the recovery effort. Puerto Rico is still reeling from two back-to-back hurricanes that struck the island six months ago and 11 percent of the island is out of power.
Wenstrup said the VA plays an outsize role in the island – 72 percent of military veterans there who are eligible for VA care use it – nearly double the usage on the mainland United States.
Along with Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, R-Puerto Rico, Wenstrup toured several VA clinics on the island and also met with representatives from Veterans Service Organizations. Their field hearing was aimed at determining how best to maximize VA resources in Puerto Rico.
He said conditions on the island are still grim, with debris stockpiled along the roads and roofs still covered with tarps, but the people are working to recover. However, he said, a shortage of doctors is imperiling the recovery effort because the island’s lackluster economy has spurred many doctors to move away in order to seek better pay and opportunities.
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2018 @ 4:08 PM
The White House on Thursday refused to directly say if Veterans Secretary David Shulkin will stay in his post, as the VA chief tried to reassure lawmakers that he remains the right person to carry out Trump Administration plans to improve the quality of care at the VA.
“I’ve pubilcly acknowledged that the distraction that has happened is something I deeply regret,” Shulkin told a House panel on Thursday, as the first question at a budget hearing was about persistent news reports of palace intrigue at the VA.
“I do feel that I have to acknowledge the proverbial elephant in the room,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who pressed Shulkin on reports that Shulkin’s own staffers were at times pitted against him in a fight with the White House over private care for veterans.
“I’ve come here for one reason, and that’s to improve the lives of veterans,” Shulkin said, saying ‘others’ were more interested in playing politics than getting the job done.
Both before the hearing on Capitol Hill – and after – Shulkin refused to answer questions from reporters about his future in the job.
When the question was posed to the White House a few hours later, there was not a direct answer on the VA Secretary’s job security.
“I don’t have any personnel announcements,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as she stressed that the Trump Administration was looking for the right mix of people and policies at the VA.
For much of the President’s first year in office, Mr. Trump was a very public fan of Shulkin, and his efforts to foster change at the VA.
“I’d like to begin by thanking Secretary David Shulkin for the incredible progress that he’s making at the VA, tremendous strides,” the President said in August of 2017 at a veterans event in the White House.
But in recent months behind the scenes, Shulkin – who was a top holdover from the Obama Administration – has been in a pitched battle with officials at the VA, even reportedly fighting with his chief spokesman, mainly over the direction that the VA should go in how much health care for veterans should be shifted away from VA facilities and to private doctors, what’s known as Veterans Choice.
Add to that, an internal watchdog report criticized Shulkin for how he got the VA to pick up some of the travel costs of his wife, who joined Shulkin on a 10-day government trip to Europe last summer.
The inspector general report also found that Shulkin wrongly accepted a gift of tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament, that a VA employee was basically used by Shulkin as a “personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities,” and that not enough documents were ever turned over to investigators to figure out the true cost of the trip to the VA.
In a mid-February hearing, Shulkin defended the trip but admitted, “I do recognize the optics of this are not good.”