Bob Packwood's Diary

November 02, 1993

"We're not the Senate Select Committee on Voyeurism," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski yesterday. Maryland's junior senator is a member of the Select Ethics Committee. It is trying to get control of the personal diary of Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., in order to determine if he has violated Senate rules or federal law.

Senator Mikulski's defense of her committee is right on the mark. This exercise is not about Senator Packwood's famous sexual escapades. Senator Packwood has agreed to let the committee read those parts of the diary bearing on charges that he misbehaved sexually and then tried to cover it by intimidating witnesses. Nor is this an exercise in reading what Senator Packwood has told his diary about other senators' sexual adventures.

No, the rap on the Ethics Committee is that it is over-reaching in its search for evidence of misconduct. Demanding the right to look for evidence of possible crimes in what Senator Packwood called yesterday a "very, very personal" diary looks very much like a fishing expedition. That is particularly true when you consider that the vice chairman of the committee concedes that the diary entries that the committee has seen and used as a basis for wanting to see more only "vaguely suggested possible misconduct."

That is good enough reason for the committee to examine Senator Packwood under oath about the implications of the suggestive diary entries it saw. It is good enough to question the other persons involved with him in this possible misconduct. It is good enough to justify other investigative efforts. It is not good enough to demand the right to seek evidence in over 20 years worth of journal entries kept for historical purposes.

The Fourth Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures" of one's "papers and effects." That protects senators as well as thieves, when a crime is involved -- and the chairman of the Ethics Committee has said one might be. On the basis of what we heard yesterday, the Ethics Committee has not made a case that its demand of Senator Packwood is reasonable. Usually courts demand that investigators offer "probable cause" that a crime has been committed before approving such things as pawing through a diary. "Vague suggestions" are not probable cause.

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