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story.lead_photo.caption Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a news conference, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

WASHINGTON -- It's been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. But in recent days, calls have mounted for the panel to decide the futures of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

The committee of three Republicans and three Democrats, which typically operates secretly, said late Thursday that it plans to resume its preliminary inquiry into alleged misconduct by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., whose federal bribery trial ended in a mistrial. The panel began an investigation in 2012 but deferred to the Justice Department for its probe.

Delving into the onslaught of allegations of sexual misconduct by powerful figures, the ethics panel is expected to investigate Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., after a woman accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 United Service Organizations tour. Franken has said he welcomes the probe.

The Senate is likely to enter uncharted territory on the case of Alabama's Roy Moore, a Republican who faces multiple complaints from women who said he pursued them when they were teens and he was in his 30s. If Moore wins the Dec. 12 special election, the top Senate Republican said he would immediately face a formal ethics complaint.

"He would be sworn in and be asked to testify under oath and it would be a rather unusual beginning, probably an unprecedented beginning," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this week at a Wall Street Journal event.

Moore's wife, Kayla, meanwhile defended her husband, insisting that he will not step aside.

"He will not step down. He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama," Kayla Moore said at a "Women for Moore" rally in Montgomery, Ala. Acting as her husband's lead defender, she lashed out at the news media and thanked people who were sticking behind her husband.

"To the people of Alabama, thank you for being smarter than they think you are," Moore said.

Speakers at the rally said the allegations against Moore were out of character for the man they have known for years.

"I do not recognize the man these ladies are describing," Ann Eubank, a fixture in Alabama Republican politics, said of the accusers.

While there was no widespread public showing of support for Franken on Friday, several of his allies, including three former Saturday Night Live colleagues and 10 former aides, all women, said they did not believe his behavior fit a pattern or was in the same realm of misconduct as other high-profile men accused of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, including comedian Louis C.K. and producer Harvey Weinstein.

Jane Curtin, a member of the original cast of Saturday Night Live who worked with Franken from 1975 to 1980 and who has been close with him since, said that in a comedy setting where women were at times not valued or dismissed because of their gender, Franken was a powerful ally who viewed female writers and comedians as his equals.

But she was also among several who said they were disappointed by Franken's conduct and were struggling with the episode, which happened during his comedy career.

"I was surprised," Curtin said. "If he did that, that's really stupid, but I have never seen him in a situation where he has been sexually aggressive with anybody."

Others, including the woman who said he forcibly kissed her during the 2006 service tour of the Middle East, grappled with his expressions of remorse. The woman, Leeann Tweeden, read an apology from the senator during a Friday appearance on the The View.

Franken told Tweeden in the letter that he wanted to "apologize to you personally," adding, "I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture. But that doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I understand why you can feel violated by that photo. ... I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO. And I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry.'"

In another appearance, Tweeden said she didn't come forward with the hope that Franken would step down.

"That's not my call," she told ABC's Good Morning America. "I think that's for the people of Minnesota to decide."

Franken faces re-election in 2020.

"Because if he did this to somebody else, or if anybody else has stayed silent, or anybody else has been the victim of any kind of abuse, maybe they can speak out and feel like they can come forward in real time and not wait a decade or longer," she said.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking, Juliet Linderman, Kim Chandler, Steve Peoples, Jay Reeves, Zeke Miller and Catherine Lucey of The Associated Press; and by Katie Rogers and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times.

A Section on 11/18/2017

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  • RBear
    November 18, 2017 at 10:15 a.m.

    If AL Republicans elect Moore, his investigation should move to the front of the line. It is downright baffling how AL Republicans can stand behind this pedophile as the evidence mounts. What is even more troubling is the response of the president, taking a harder line against Franken for far lesser acts and essentially dismissing Moore to the voters of AL. It shows how afraid he is of losing his base.