Packwood papers may be Pandora's box Internal struggle has Senate aquiver

November 01, 1993|By Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- Barring a last-minute compromise, the Senate today takes on the increasingly messy case of Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., whose diary is said to chronicle not only his love life, but also those of fellow lawmakers, and is said to raise questions about possible criminal violations.

The threat of such broader disclosures, which emerged after the Senate ethics committee subpoenaed the 8,200-page diary in its investigation of allegations of improper sexual conduct by Mr. Packwood, has thrown the normally staid chamber into a tizzy.

At issue in today's debate: whether the ethics committee should go to court for a judicial order to force the senator to comply with its subpoena.

"The question before the Senate is: Will the Senate of the United States back up its own ethics committee?" said Sen. Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., who is chairman of the panel.

It was Mr. Bryan who, bruising the Senate rules of confidentiality, let slip last week that Mr. Packwood withheld the diary after the committee's investigators had found information in its pages to suggest that he broke other laws.

This neat bit of political hardball followed Mr. Packwood's own statement that other members of Congress might find the diary's notes on their own sexual misbehavior embarrassing. Not that, Mr. Packwood reassured them, he had any "intention of ever using this for blackmail, graymail or anything else."

Such eye-gouging, groin-kicking, bare-knuckle brawling has upset the decorum of the Senate club. With the term-limit movement, an angry electorate, and the followers of Rush Limbaugh and Ross Perot regularly besieging the Capitol with hot brands and torches, its members ask: Does Congress really need to fuel its critics with this kind of internal fuss?

"I think that is very unfortunate," said Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas. "This is the kind of news a lot of people like. Nail somebody -- particularly a senator."

It was the latest twist in the steamy Packwood saga, which dates to the fall of 1992, when a free-lance reporter for the Washington Post began tracking down rumors that the senator, a long-time public champion of women's rights, had been taking private sexual liberties, in the form of unwelcome kissing and fondling, with female staff, visitors and reporters.

Mr. Packwood stalled the story until after he won re-election to a six-year term, but the Post report and subsequent revelations have made him something of a pariah in Oregon, where he has been limited by protests and a critical media to appearances at obscure gatherings.

Inside the Senate club, however, Mr. Packwood has been nourished by the good will of his peers, who have gone out of their way to express publicly their respect for him. They also quashed attempts by Oregon Democrats and women's groups to deny him the seat he has held for a quarter-century.

The nourishment stopped in early October, when the ethics committee, whose investigation the 61-year-old Mr. Packwood requested himself, discovered in the course of a deposition that the diary contained entries about the senator's love life, along with his accounts of such historic moments as the Watergate scandal and the 1986 battle over tax reform.

The discovery miffed Mr. Bryan and his colleagues, who say Mr. Packwood misled the committee by not turning over the material when the panel asked for relevant documents in March and July.

On Oct. 17, says Mr. Bryan, the committee's investigators were reviewing the diaries under procedures agreed to by Mr. Packwood's lawyer when they found information that "raised questions about a possible violation of one or more laws, including criminal laws," unrelated to the accusations of improper sexual behavior.

Neither Mr. Packwood nor Mr. Bryan would say what was at stake, but there are hints in the public record that point to possible violations of campaign finance or lobbying laws.

On Oct. 18, Mr. Packwood shut off access to his diary. On the 20th, the committee issued its subpoena. On the 22nd, Mr. Packwood's lawyers told the news media that the diaries included entries on the sex lives of other members of Congress.

"My lawyer put out a statement indicating some of the things that were in the diary, including an extended affair that one senator had with a member of his staff, including an affair that a staffer had with a member of the current congressional Democratic leadership," Mr. Packwood told the Senate last Monday.

Work in 535 congressional offices screeched to a halt, and pols and staffers gathered around office television sets to watch what has come to be known as "the blackmail speech" on C-SPAN.

"The secrets in that diary are safe with me," Mr. Packwood reassured his fellow senators. But should the Senate vote to enforce the subpoena, he said, "these are the things it will show."

Mr. Packwood argued that "we are perfectly willing to reveal everything in the diary that has any material reference at all to the charges."

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