NEW YORK – A chill filled the air as a Blackhawk helicopter landed with a roar in Iraq that afternoon in 2006, carrying a USO troupe from Ramadi where fierce fighting was underway. Inside the aircraft was a group that included a couple of Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, model Leeann Tweeden and then-comedian and radio host Al Franken.
The crew landed that afternoon at Camp Anaconda, in Balad, Iraq, a sprawling military base north of Baghdad, five days before Christmas. Local New York City television station WPIX recorded the event over a week as they met with local troops from New York, bringing them a taste of the Big Apple — hot dogs, bagels and cheesecake – and putting them on live to speak to their families back home.
Leeann was still in battle gear, wearing her Kevlar vest and helmet, Franken in a red sweater. What she was wearing looked to be the same as the gear she was wearing in the photograph in which Franken is seen groping her. Separated by the two cheerleaders standing between them, Franken and Tweeden both appeared quite upbeat, expressing their pleasure that they could visit the troops.
“They really needed it out there in Ramadi today,” Tweeden said. “They don’t get a lot of visitors and it’s tough for the — their mission is really tough — so I’m glad we could be here to visit.”
Franken echoed her sentiments: “We go to show that we love and support our troops.”
It’s believed that the groping incident was during a rehearsal for their show hours after they spoke with WPIX that Franken allegedly forcibly kissed Tweeden.
The alleged groping incident in that picture didn’t occur until a few days later, during their military flight back to the United States.
Franken has apologized for his actions and Tweeden has accepted it, but the potential impact on his political career remains to be seen amid calls for a Senate ethics investigation.