#Fire-Al-Franken

Army veteran says Franken groped her during USO tour in 2003

Stephanie Kemplin poses with Al Franken in 2003.
© Stephanie Kemplin Stephanie Kemplin poses with Al Franken in 2003. An Army veteran says Sen. Al Franken groped her in December 2003, telling CNN that while she was deployed in Kuwait, the Minnesota Democrat cupped her breast during a photo op.

Stephanie Kemplin, 41, of Maineville, Ohio, is the fifth woman in two weeks to accuse Franken of inappropriate touching, and the second person to allege that such behavior took place while Franken was on a USO tour. Three of the five women have been identified by name.

Kemplin said while she was stationed in the Middle East during the Iraq War, she met Franken — at the time, a comedian and writer — as he was visiting American troops with the USO. A longtime fan of “Saturday Night Live,” Kemplin got in line to take a photo with Franken.

“When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast. He kept his hand all the way over on my breast,” Kemplin said in an interview. “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.”

Kemplin repeatedly used the word “embarrassed” to describe her immediate reaction at the time.

“I remember clenching up and how you just feel yourself flushed,” she said. “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.”

She added: “It was long enough that he should have known if it was an accident. I’m very confident saying that.”

Kemplin estimated that the touching lasted anywhere from five to 10 seconds. She said she eventually turned her body to shift Franken’s hand off her breast before the picture was taken.

In a photo shared with CNN, Kemplin — who was 27 at the time and a military police officer — 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.”

A Franken spokesperson told CNN Wednesday night: “As Sen. Franken made clear this week, he takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct. He remains fully committed to cooperating with the ethics investigation.”

‘I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture.’

In one of multiple lengthy phone calls with a CNN reporter this week, Kemplin repeatedly broke into sobs.

“I was in a war zone… You were on a USO tour — are you trying to boost the morale of the troops or are you trying to boost your own?” she said. “I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture.”

Kemplin said she did not say anything to Franken at the time.

“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,” she said. “Who was I going to tell?”

She also doesn’t recall telling any fellow soldiers about the incident afterwards because she felt ashamed and did not have peers she felt she could confide in. But she discussed it with multiple family members and relatives, including her sister, as well as an ex-boyfriend. CNN interviewed both.

Amy Muddiman, Kemplin’s older sister, said she remembers Kemplin being excited that Franken was coming to visit because she had grown up watching SNL.

“I just remember her telling me that he grabbed her breast and that she was so shocked about it,” Muddiman said. “My sister is pretty bold and assertive and she said that she didn’t know what to do.”

One of Kemplin’s ex-boyfriends was also in the Army and he and Kemplin dated after the two of them returned to the United States. He asked not to be named to protect his privacy. He told CNN that while he did not remember all of the details of what Kemplin described of her encounter with Franken, she said “he went to put his arm around her and copped a feel.”

Kemplin’s account sounds similar to others

Kemplin’s story bears striking resemblance to those of several other women who have accused Franken of groping in recent days.

Lindsay Menz of Frisco, Texas, told CNN last week that Franken grabbed her buttocks while the two took a photo together at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. The Huffington Post also reported that two women, whose identities were not revealed, said Franken touched their buttocks in 2007 and 2008.

These stories came after Leeann Tweeden, morning news anchor on KABC radio in Los Angeles, revealed that Franken groped and forcibly kissed her during a USO tour in 2006.

Kemplin said when she saw Tweeden’s story on social media, she “felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me” because she had tried not to think about her run-in with Franken in years.

Kemplin reached out to Tweeden two days after Tweeden went public with her story, and the two women spoke on the phone a few days later. In one of their subsequent conversations, Tweeden asked Kemplin if she could connect her with a CNN reporter.

Over the past two weeks, Kemplin also wrote about her 2003 meeting with Franken on Facebook in two posts visible to her friends on the social network. One relative, whose name CNN is not using to protect the person’s privacy, commented on Facebook that her husband “remembers you telling him about (Franken) years ago.”

Kemplin, who now works as a federal contractor investigating Medicare fraud, is a registered Republican and said she voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. 

Kemplin recounts sexual assault by fellow soldier

One reason Kemplin said the Franken news has hit her especially hard in recent days is because she was the victim of sexual assault while serving overseas.

She said she was assaulted by a specialist with whom she shared a tent in 2003, just months before her run-in with Franken. The details of the assault were shared with CNN but are not being disclosed at Kemplin’s request.

CNN has also reviewed Kemplin’s military records. She was discharged honorably in 2008.

Sean Chambers, the platoon sergeant who oversaw Kemplin while she was deployed in Kuwait, described Kemplin in an interview as a “model soldier” who was honest, friendly and quiet.

Chambers said she confided in him about having been inappropriately touched by a member of their unit, though she did not divulge to him the full details at the time. An investigation was launched into Kemplin’s complaint of “indecent assault.”

According to documents viewed by CNN, Kemplin was eventually told that while the whole incident was “totally inappropriate behavior,” the accused specialist was not guilty of “indecent assault.” In addition, she was told that she was “responsible” for having allowed the male specialist to get close to her.

“I was really pissed off. It was not right,” Chambers said. “My reaction was: when is it ever the victim’s fault?”

He added: “I believe Stephanie. I believe that something did happen. I’ve seen sexual assault victims before in my line of work and the trauma that they face and there’s no doubt in my mind that something happened.”

Re-living her encounter with Franken, Kemplin said, has brought up memories of that assault

Kemplin struggled to re-acclimate when she came home from Iraq. Today she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has trouble sleeping. One of her coping mechanisms since the war, Kemplin said, is to “shut down” and block out certain negative memories, particularly when she is feeling overwhelmed. She has described this in the past as a kind of selective “memory loss.”

She said she is certain some people will question her story about Franken, because she is only choosing to speak out years later: “Nobody wants to believe anybody if you don’t immediately stand up and say something.”

Franken has repeatedly apologized about behavior that he said “crossed a line” for some women. The second-term senator has also said that he has taken thousands of photos with people over the years and that while he doesn’t remember specific pictures or campaign events, any inappropriate behavior was unintentional.

Franken faces a potential investigation under by the Senate Ethics Committee, and has said he will fully cooperate with the probe.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill this week, CNN asked Franken why he was unable to answer the question of whether more women could come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

“If you had asked me two weeks ago, would any woman come forward with an allegation like this, I would have said no,” Franken said. “And so I cannot speculate. This has been a shock and it’s been extremely humbling. I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed.”

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.

Woman says Al Franken inappropriately touched her in 2010

Franken poses with Lindsay Menz, a 33-year-old woman who now lives in Frisco, Texas.
© Lindsay Menz Franken poses with Lindsay Menz, a 33-year-old woman who now lives in Frisco, Texas. A woman says Sen. Al Franken inappropriately touched her in 2010, telling CNN that he grabbed her buttocks while taking a photo at the Minnesota State Fair.

It is the first allegation of improper touching by Franken, who is a Democrat, while he was in office. It comes just days after Leeann Tweeden, a local radio news anchor in California, said that Franken forcibly kissed and groped her in 2006, when Franken was a comedian.

Franken has since issued an apology to Tweeden and faces a potential investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

Lindsay Menz, a 33-year-old woman who now lives in Frisco, Texas, reached out to CNN on Thursday hours after Tweeden made her story public. Menz said she wanted to share an “uncomfortable” interaction that left her feeling “gross.”

According to Menz, she attended the Minnesota State Fair with her husband and father in the summer of 2010, almost two years after Franken was elected to the Senate. Her father’s small business was sponsoring a local radio booth, and she spent the day meeting various elected officials, political candidates and celebrities and taking photos with them as they stopped by the booth.

When Franken walked in, Menz and her husband, who also spoke with CNN, said they recognized him right away. Menz said she had a brief and cordial exchange with the senator.

Then, as her husband held up her phone and got ready to snap a photo of the two of them, Franken “pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear,” Menz said. “It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.”

“It wasn’t around my waist. It wasn’t around my hip or side. It was definitely on my butt,” she said, recalling that the brazen act lasted three or four seconds. “I was like, oh my God, what’s happening.”

“He reached around her and kind of pulled her into him,” said her husband Jeremy Menz, who didn’t see what happened behind his wife. “He pulled her in and pushed his head against her head. It was over pretty quick.”

Lindsay Menz told CNN that she walked away as soon as the photo was taken, without saying anything to the then-first term senator. When she reconnected with her husband moments later, she told him: “He totally grabbed my butt.” Jeremy Menz described that conversation the same way to CNN.

In a statement to CNN Sunday, Franken said he did not remember taking the photo with Menz and that he felt “badly” that she felt disrespected.

“I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture,” Franken said. “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”

“I felt gross. It’d be like being walking through the mall and some random person grabbing your butt,” Lindsay Menz said. “You just feel gross. Like ew, I want to wash that off of me.”

“I was upset. I wasn’t happy about it in the least,” Jeremy Menz said. “He was already gone and I wasn’t going to confront him. But yeah — I was in shock, really.”

Menz’s father, Mark Brown, was also in the radio booth that day but didn’t witness the moment. But he told CNN that his daughter told him about the incident right away.

Menz’s mother, Jodi Brown, also told CNN that she discussed the incident with her daughter immediately after it happened. She said she distinctly recalls her son-in-law saying to her: “Our senator just groped my wife right in front of me.”

In the photo of Menz and Franken, the side of the senator’s face is pressed up against Menz’s but the lower halves of their bodies are not shown. Both of them are smiling.

Menz posted the photo with Franken on Facebook at the time, on August 27, 2010. Her sister, Cari Thunker, commented under the photo: “Sorry, but you two aren’t Bibles (sic) width apart” — a reference, Thunker explained to CNN, to how physically close Menz and Franken were in the photo.

Menz responded to her sister on Facebook: “Dude — Al Franken TOTALLY molested me! Creeper!” (The exchange is visible to Menz’s Facebook friends.)

Minnesota statutes state that “intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks” is not considered criminal sexual conduct.

Menz told CNN that what happened immediately after she took the photo with Franken that summer day in 2010 has also stayed with her. Standing nearby was another politician — then-Minnesota Rep. John Kline.

As she was getting ready to take a picture with Kline, Menz said the congressman asked her whether they should “mutually put our arms around each other” — an interaction that struck her as being in stark contrast with what she had experienced moments ago with Franken.

Reached on the phone on Friday, Kline, a Republican who retired from Congress this year, confirmed that he attended the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, as he did most years. Kline could not remember seeing the interaction between Menz and Franken. But when CNN described Menz’s recollection of her interaction with Kline before they took a photo together, he told CNN: “As a matter of practice, I did that all the time.”

“If somebody wanted a picture, I would ask: should I put my arm on your back or your shoulder?” Kline said. He said that as a congressman, he was particularly inclined to do this when taking photos with women.

Lindsay and Jeremy Menz moved from Minnesota to Texas in 2014. Lindsay Menz is now a stay-at-home-mom of three young kids. Neither is registered with a political party and she said she has equally supported Republican and Democratic candidates while he said he has tended to favor Republicans. The couple voted last year for Donald Trump, and Menz said she has voted for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is a Democrat, in the past. Menz said she believes she has voted for Franken as well, but is not sure.

RELATED: Democrats, liberal groups are on the defensive following Franken revelations

When Menz saw the news of Tweeden’s allegations against Franken on Thursday, she immediately discussed her own run-in with the senator from 2010 with her family. She also posted about it on Twitter and Facebook.

A friend encouraged Menz to contact a CNN reporter after seeing the network’s coverage of sexual harassment in recent days. Menz was emphatic that she “absolutely” would not have decided to share her story had Tweeden not done the same.

“I don’t want to paint my story in the same light as hers,” Menz said, saying she believes what happened to Tweeden is much worse.

Still, she said, “the reason I want to say something is if someone sees that I said something, maybe it would give them the courage to say something too.”

Franken has not made further statements to the press since releasing two apologies on Thursday. He has said he intends to fully cooperate if there is a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his behavior.

“I respect women. 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,” he said in a statement. “I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”