Nov 16, 2017

What Al Franken's ethics probe would look like

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., reads during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Sens. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and Al Franken himself have said they want the Ethics Committee to examine Franken's conduct after journalist Leeann Tweeden said he groped her in 2006. A spokesman for the Chairman of the committee, Sen. Johnny Isakson, said he had no comment on whether the committee would move forward on this.

Why it matters: If the Franken case does go before the committee and makes it to a vote, it will reveal what each Senator on the committee — Chairman Johnny Isakson, Vice Chairman Chris Coons, and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Brian Shatz, Pat Roberts, and James Risch — thinks the standard is, or should be, for sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill at a time when tensions over this issue are high.

How it's worked before:

  • Sen. Bob Packwood resigned under threat of expulsion by unanimous vote after the committee investigated his case for 33 months to look into decades of Packwood's Congressional tenure.
  • The committee hired an outside counsel to formalize its investigation into Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who resigned in 2011 over the investigation into an affair with the wife of a member of his staff. If the committee hires an outside counsel to formalize the investigation into Sen. Franken, that could lead to a public hearing on the allegations.
  • The info the committee could release: The committee released 10,145 pages on Sen. Packwood's encounters described in "startling detail," per the NYT.
  • Impact: The committee said it would refer Packwood's case to the Department of Justice for further action. Packwood kept his pension at the end of it all (the only time a Senator loses his or her pension is when they're convicted of treason or violations of national security).
  • Other senators with sexual misconduct allegations: Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2007 and was also arrested in an undercover sex sting that year. The phone records of an escort service, known to be a prostitution ring, showed the phone number of Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana in 2007.

The committee's track record:

  • In 2016 the committee reviewed 63 alleged violations, 5 of which received preliminary inquiries. None led to disciplinary sanctions and none led to private or public letters of admonition. The committee also handled approximately 9,736 telephone inquiries and 1,580 email inquiries last year.
  • In the last decade, the committee has received 676 allegations, conducted a preliminary inquiry into 68 of them. It has issued 5 private or public letters of admonition, and none have led to a disciplinary sanction.

What to watch: Sen. Franken's demeanor. Senators on the committee allegedly moved to give Packwood the highest possible punishment due to his defiant, selfish, and unrepentant response to the investigation. So far Sen. Franken has said he would cooperate gladly with an investigation and asked for one to take place himself.

Correction: This story incorrectly stated that Ensign's affair was with a member of his staff. The woman did work for him at one point, but it was her husband who worked on Ensign's Senate staff.

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