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McConnell: Hope Moore is prepared for his Ethics probe

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Hopefully Senate Republicans will be prepared for it, too. This leftover from yesterday will take on additional importance if Al Franken resigns tomorrow. Democrats clean up their messes while Republicans get theirs elected will be the cry from the media, ignoring their 25-year record of covering for Bill Clinton’s sexual predation and their efforts to get him back in the White House via Hillary.

But still, that doesn’t mean Republicans won’t have to answer for Moore, and that the need will become more acute if Franken hits the bricks:

The Senate Ethics Committee will immediately launch an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against retired judge Roy Moore if the Republican Senate candidate wins a special election in Alabama next week.

The committee doesn’t require a referral from Senate leadership or another entity to initiate an investigation, just the votes of four of six committee members. With the panel split equally among Democrats and Republicans, that outcome is all but assured. Moore, projected in most public opinion polls to narrowly defeat Democratic attorney Doug Jones, would likely be called to testify under oath.

The probe, likely to be rigorous, would be carried out behind closed doors by the Senate Ethics Committee’s professional, nonpartisan staff. It could take months, and might come up empty or conclude with an “admonishment” — essentially a slap on the wrist. The committee could also recommend that the full Senate vote on a motion to “censure” Moore or expel him from Congress.

“If he were to be elected, he would immediately have an issue with the Ethics Committee that they would take up,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday during a Capitol Hill news conference.

A fine statement, but the questions begin almost immediately from that point. First, while a number of Senate Republicans have refused to endorse Moore, several — including McConnell — have said that the voters of Alabama have to make the choice of representation. A few, such as Jeff Flake, will probably call for Moore’s resignation immediately, but McConnell’s not going to go that far right off the bat.

Next, an Ethics Committee investigation will likely confirm much of what has already been reported, but only after several months of doing their own independent work. Does McConnell expect Moore to resign at that point? If he’s still around, how much will that matter? Assuming that the Ethics report looks as bad as things do now, will McConnell make Moore the first sitting senator expelled since 1862? He might have to do so, because Moore’s making it crystal clear that he can’t be shamed into withdrawing, no matter what evidence emerges.

Besides, there may be an issue of scope in a Moore ethics probe, as John Cornyn pointed out:

“There’s due process. It’s not just hang ’em and then give ’em a fair trial. There will have to be a process by which they gather information and then they make a decision, and that requires a majority vote,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, who previously served on the ethics panel. “They need to make some fundamental decision like, are they going to consider pre-Senate conduct, which, that would represent a change in the policy, because the last time I was on the ethics committee, they only considered conduct while you were in the Senate.”

That jurisdictional issue might have stymied a Franken probe too, although Franken appeared to waive that technicality in pledging to cooperate with the committee. Does anyone think Moore will waive it? Maaaaybe, if he’s convinced that he’s clean despite his numerous inconsistent statements over the last few weeks on whether he knew the accusers or not. However, the statements attacking accusers and contradicting his own claims could be within the scope of the committee given that they took place during the campaign, so Moore may not be out of the woods on that point anyway.

At some point, Republicans will have to play hardball with Moore, if he wins the race, which is no slam dunk at this point. Moore will make them play hardball. McConnell wants people to think that the GOP is up for that … while the RNC is committing more than a million dollars to get Moore elected. Good luck selling that spin.

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