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File photo of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., by Craig Lassig/Reuters

Senate ethics panel opens preliminary inquiry into Franken over sexual misconduct allegations

WASHINGTON — As allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful lawmakers roil Congress, House Democrats on Thursday delivered their strongest rebuke yet with calls for Michigan Rep. John Conyers’ resignation, while those in the Senate reserved judgment for their embattled colleague, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized the multiple accusations against the 88-year-old Conyers, which included repeated propositions for sex, and retaliation against one former aide who rebuffed his advances, as “serious, disappointing and very credible.”

Senators on the bipartisan ethics panel say in a statement that they are aware of the allegations and are opening the inquiry into Franken’s alleged misconduct.

Franken has apologized and said he welcomes an ethics investigation.

Before the ethics committee announcement, his spokesman released a statement saying that Franken “has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.”

Despite the multitude of allegations, Franken’s colleagues in the Senate have consistently condemned the alleged behavior but stopped short of asking him to quit.

“I think the Senate Ethics Committee is the place where the fact-finding should be done, and then the remedy should be recommended,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., adding that the investigation should be conducted “in a matter of days or weeks, not months.”

“Remedies require a full investigation. Strong remedies are appropriate when there is a certain kind of violations of norms and laws, and any unwanted sexual contact violates the norms and rules that we have here, and the best way to impose remedies and discipline is through due process,” he said.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a war veteran, said she tends to believe victims, but added, “I think we should let the process move forward.”

The Senate Ethics Committee is not known for swift investigations. After 19 women accused Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., of sexual harassment, it took three years for the committee to complete its investigation; he resigned in 1995 one day after the panel recommended expulsion.