Packwood's colleagues should urge him to leave ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

November 05, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- You can't help wondering what the impact is around the country of the television spectacle of the Bob Packwood sexual harassment soap opera.

With voters in Tuesday's off-year elections saying in various ways and in key cities and states that they want action and change from their elected officials, viewers of C-SPAN and CNN have been treated to a solemn, time-consuming debate about whether one senator should be forced to turn over 8,200 pages of his personal diaries containing all manner of thoughts, musings and gossip about his own behavior and that of yet-unnamed colleagues.

A smarmy effort by Packwood and/or his lawyers to intimidate fellow senators by suggesting the diaries contain unspecified dirt about them that they would not like to see aired did not work. The Senate, mindful of the low esteem in which it already is held dating back at least to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, seems determined to demonstrate that it will not succumb to the usual wrist-slapping of an accused colleague, and to force the production of the full diaries, in court if necessary.

Packwood is entitled, certainly, to the presumption of innocence until all the facts are in, even though a small army of women has come forward to testify about assorted gropings, fondlings and bussings over his long public career in Washington. But his bulldog resistance to the full release of the diaries that he unwisely first offered in his own defense feeds the impression that a presumption of innocence is a gesture of extreme generosity in this case.

For all practical purposes, Packwood's ability to function in the Senate as an effective member and representative of the interests of the people of Oregon has already been shattered. Other senators, both Republican and Democratic, won't forget not only his figurative nose-thumbing at them and at the Senate as an institution, but also the great discomfort he has caused them by unprecedentedly forcing them to go to the wall on the disclosure issue.

Packwood's lawyers, pulling out the stops, have accused Senate President Pro Tem Robert Byrd of violating Senate tradition and courtesy by calling on the Senate floor for Packwood to resign. But he was only expressing the sentiment of many others in both parties in saying that "none of us is pure or without flaw, but when those flaws damage the institution of the Senate it is time to have the grace to go." Packwood, Byrd went on, "has chosen to do the opposite. He has chosen to stay in spite of the continuing damage he is doing to the body by prolonging this matter."

Several Republican senators stuck their necks out for Packwood in attempting to win approval for a narrowing of the Senate's demand to hand over only pages "relevant" to the charges of sexual harassment and a new allegation of possible criminal action regarding sought employment from lobbyists for his wife, whom he was divorcing at the time. But those efforts were rebuffed pointedly by fellow Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, vice chairman of the Senate ethics committee that has subpoenaed the diaries.

Doing so, McConnell said, would set "a double standard of justice for everyone in America . . . [and] for the Senate" -- a viewpoint strongly held by other senators sensitive to the thoughts of television-viewing voters about the special privileges the elected few.

In all this, the charges of sexual harassment themselves have been all but lost in the shuffle. The whole sordid business is reminiscent of President Richard Nixon's declining to produce the Watergate tapes and trying to get by with the release of edited -- and doctored -- transcripts.

The Supreme Court slapped Nixon down in that historic episode and the chances are the lower federal court that will consider the Packwood objections will do the same. Even if it doesn't, Packwood is damaged goods, and not simply from the sexual harassment charges against him but from the shameless efforts by him and his lawyers to keep the Senate from getting at the truth or falsity of those charges.

It's time for Packwood's Senate friends, as Sen. Barry Goldwater did for Nixon in the Watergate affair, to tell him for his own good, for his party and for the Senate, to fold his cards.

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