The Jolt: Johnny Isakson could oversee probes of Al Franken, Bob Menendez – and Roy Moore

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson talks during an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial board, Monday, June 13, 2016. KENT D. JOHNSON/ KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

We’ve told you that Georgia’s Johnny Isakson would have a front-and-center role if Roy Moore wins the U.S. Senate race in Alabama and Republicans then move to expel him from their chamber. Now it appears that Isakson will have a busy few months, regardless of whether the GOP firebrand wins on Dec. 12.

The Senate Ethics Committee chaired by Isakson appears on track to pick up a pair of high-profile investigations involving two Democratic colleagues. First, there’s Bob Menendez, whose bribery and corruption case was just declared a mistrial in New Jersey.

Now it looks like Isakson will lead the probe into allegations of sexual misconduct against Al Franken of Minnesota. On Thursday, a sports broadcaster accused the former “Saturday Night Live” writer and comedian of kissing her against her will and taking a lewd photo of her while she slept, both when the pair were part of a USO tour. Top Senate leaders from both parties called for an investigation into the accusations against Franken, and the lawmaker said he would cooperate.

Isakson’s staff wouldn’t comment on an inquiry into Menendez or Franken, a common operating procedure for the secretive committee. Any internal review into Franken’s behavior will largely be away from prying public (and reporters’) eyes. But the tone Isakson strikes will be notable – and potentially precedent-setting – during a time when Washington, Hollywood and the nation grapples with how to protect against widespread instances of sexual misconduct.

The panel is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, so any action the committee could take would need to be bipartisan. It’s rare, however, for the panel to sanction colleagues. In Isakson’s first two years leading Senate Ethics, it reviewed 118 alleged violations and conducted 12 preliminary inquiries, according to the panel’s annual reports.

None of those cases led to disciplinary sanctions. The last time the committee investigated sexual misconduct allegations, which were made against then-Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood in the 1990s, he resigned after the panel voted unanimously to expel him. (Tamar Hallerman)

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Speaking of Al Franken: He won’t be attending an Atlanta book festival on Monday. Our AJC colleague Jennifer Brett reports that Franken cancelled his sold-out appearance at the MJCCA’s book fair hours after the accusations surfaced.

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Then there’s that special moment that comes when the fellow who once boasted of having a license to grope women decides he’s standing on the moral high ground. From President Donald Trump’s Twitter account last night:

Yeah, he wasn’t using spellcheck. And this:

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On a far too similar topic: President Donald Trump declined Thursday to publicly say whether Roy Moore, the U.S. Senate candidate running in Alabama, should withdraw from the contest. Moore has been accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old and making sexual contact with a 14-year-old. Both incidents occurred decades ago.

A White House spokeswoman on Thursday took the Sean Hannity line and said the decision about Roy Moore should be left to voters. A statewide survey released Thursday show Democrat Doug Jones leading Moore:

Jones is up by eight points over Moore among Alabama likely voters, 50 percent vs. 42 percent, in a Fox News Poll conducted Monday through Wednesday evenings.  His lead is outside the poll’s margin of sampling error (±3.5 percentage points).  Nine percent are undecided or plan to vote for someone else.

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The first head-to-head debate between Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood in the runoff to become mayor of Atlanta, sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, was a testy affair. You can read the AJC account here.

Or you can watch it here.

And if you’re really civic-minded, you can watch the other Thursday debate — between Alex Wan and Felicia Moore, the two candidates in the runoff to become Atlanta city council president.

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The Buckhead Coalition sat out the first round of the vote for mayor. But the group, run by former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, didn’t wait long to enter the fray for the runoff. It announced Thursday it was backing Councilwoman Mary Norwood over her rival, Keisha Lance Bottoms. Massell said she has been “responsive to the entire city from Buckhead to Bankhead, and the public knows she is trustworthy.” (GB)

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No surprise here, but Georgia’s lawmakers in the U.S. House staked out familiar partisan turf on the GOP’s big tax bill yesterday afternoon. All 10 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation. Each of the state’s four Democrats rejected it. Reviews from the delegation veered from the enthusiastic –“transformative step,” “creating stronger growth, more jobs and higher wages” (Karen Handel) — to the downright despondent — “absolute, most dangerous, destructive, and deceitful tax reform bill (David Scott). (TH)

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Republican Brian Kemp’s campaign for governor launched a “Women for Kemp” group that included more than 500 endorsements. The list includes former state Rep. Charlice Byrd, GOP operative Martha Zoller. See the entire list here. (GB)