Senate to vote today on diaries of Packwood Oregon senator says subpoena violates rights

November 02, 1993|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In a day of high drama on the Senate floor, Sen. Bob Packwood stood alone before his colleagues yesterday and pleaded with them not to force him to turn over diaries that may implicate him in criminal wrongdoing.

Senate leaders canceled all other business and lawmakers slouched glumly in their seats, while senators debated whether the Oregon Republican should be compelled to comply with a subpoena issued by the Senate ethics committee.

After more than seven hours of deliberations the Senate adjourned last night without resolving the bitter dispute between Mr. Packwood and the ethics committee, which wants to ask a U.S. district court to enforce the subpoena. A vote on the matter is expected today, unless some compromise is reached.

Mr. Packwood, 61, a five-term Senate veteran, came to the floor armed with documents and a calm, determined air. He told his colleagues he found himself paying the price for trying to use his voluminous personal recollections to defend himself in the ethics investigation.

While being questioned under oath by a committee lawyer early last month, Mr. Packwood said he described a scene involving one of a number of women who later complained of sexual harassment.

She "was drinking wine with me in the office one night, [when] she stood up, approached me, put her arms around me and gave me a great big kiss and said, 'You are wonderful,' I responded, 'Warts and all?' and she laughed and she knew the reference."

"That was in the diary," he said. "I turned to my attorneys who were sitting with me and I said, 'What do I do?' I'm asked if I have any other information that would corroborate the statement I made . . . If I say, 'No,' I'm guilty of perjury. If I say, 'Yes,' I have opened up the diaries."

The senator argues that the committee is violating his privacy by seeking diary material that ranges far beyond the scope of its original investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation of witnesses.

The committee has already reviewed 5,000 pages of the diaries and found evidence relating to other forms of misconduct, including unspecified crimes.

The panel says it has a responsibility to follow up on the new evidence. But Mr. Packwood insisted that every senator's privacy is at stake.

Democratic Sen. Richard H. Bryan of Nevada, the ethics committee chairman, defended his panel's decision to seek the diaries. He added that Mr. Packwood was believed to be the first senator ever to fail to cooperate with an ethics committee investigation.

None of Mr. Packwood's colleagues defended him directly, although several took up the larger cause of privacy.

Sen. Patty Murray, a freshman Democrat from Washington who was elected in the wake of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas sexual harassment controversy, warned her male colleagues that women who have been victims of sexual misconduct would not look favorably upon this line of reasoning.

"Many of our colleagues are worried about their personal privacy," she said. "I find it difficult to understand those concerns considering the nature of the material against Senator Packwood."

Much of the anger expressed during yesterday's session came from ethics committee members protesting that Senator Packwood and his lawyers had tried to confuse the issue by creating the impression that the committee was on a " witch hunt" into the sex lives of other lawmakers.

"We are not the Senate Select Committee on Voyeurism," declared Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, one of the panel's three Democrats. "We have no prurient interest in this information. We are not reporters for a scandal sheet. . . . We need access to the facts, and we need to be able to follow all our leads."

In a final attempt at compromise, Mr. Packwood pleaded with his colleagues to get the committee to tell him what new charges he might be facing.

With that information, Mr. Packwood said, he might agree to turn over only those portions of the diaries that relate to the new charges as well as the original ones.

But Mr. Bryan cited several conversations and documents in which Mr. Packwood's lawyers' made clear they were aware of the nature of the expanded inquiry.

According to an article published yesterday in the Oregonian newspaper, the committee's new probe focuses at least in part on diary references that relate to charges that Mr. Packwood pressured a lobbyist to offer his estranged wife a job in 1990.

The senator was reported to be particularly interested in the salary that might be paid to Georgie Packwood, who at the time was seeking alimony as part of their divorce proceedings.

The newspaper quoted Mrs. Packwood as saying that her husband's pressure on the lobbyist was so intense the job offer was withdrawn.

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