Judge takes over Packwood diaries

December 17, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge took control of Sen. Bob Packwood's diaries yesterday amid strong new accusations by the Senate that the Oregon Republican tampered with the material at the center of an ethics investigation.

The senator's legal troubles escalated yesterday as the Senate Ethics Committee's leaders said they had formally broadened the panel's probe to cover the issue of whether he tried illegally to "obstruct" the Senate by changing diary tapes or typed transcripts.

He is already under investigation on charges that he made unwanted sexual advances toward more than two dozen women and gave a lobbyist special help in exchange for a job for his wife, so that he would pay less in alimony when they divorced.

At a two-hour hearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Jackson yesterday, Senate Legal Counsel Michael Davidson revealed new details of a former Packwood secretary's claim that he took some diary tapes back from her and changed them several months ago.

According to Mr. Davidson, she also said that Mr. Packwood, after becoming a target of the Senate panel early this year, asked her to speed up her typing of diaries he dictated during his re-election campaign last fall -- a time when he was seeking to squelch stories about the alleged sexual advances. He said he wanted those for his lawyers' use, Mr. Davidson suggested.

Before the Senate lawyer even began his plea, however, Judge Jackson ordered Mr. Packwood's lawyers to hand over by the end of the afternoon the cassette tapes and typed transcripts "in their entirety, in any form in which they may be found." The court will keep them, the judge indicated, until he rules on the Senate's demand for them.

Mr. Packwood's chief lawyer, Jacob A. Stein, said the items were being held under "lock and key" at a law firm's offices here and would be submitted. Mr. Stein mounted a heavy verbal attack on the committee, only to be met repeatedly by Judge Jackson's defense of it.

His voice heavy with sarcasm, Mr. Stein said the committee had given Mr. Packwood assurances that "we are good people, we would never do you any wrong." Pausing dramatically, Mr. Stein then added: ". . . said the spider to the fly."

The most dramatic part of yesterday's two-hour hearing came when Mr. Davidson, the Senate lawyer, summarized 73 pages of new sworn testimony given Wednesday by former Packwood secretary Cathy Wagner Cormack -- the only person who ever transcribed the diary tapes he has been dictating since 1981.

Later, the committee released that transcript, offering page after page of Ms. Cormack's sometimes hazy recollections of hearing omissions or "irregular" sounds on the tapes, of the timing of his revisions of the tapes just when a committee subpoena seemed to be in the offing, and of his editing of the transcripts.

Just when the fight with the committee over his diaries was heating up this fall, Ms. Cormack testified, he stopped all of her transcribing work. Asked if she now had any more tapes, she commented with seeming disgust: "I don't want to ever see a tape again."

Although Ms. Cormack has now twice given Senate investigators strongly critical evidence against the senator, she indicated that he had not shown any bitterness toward her. The night before her Wednesday deposition, she reported, he telephoned her: "He called to tell me I looked great on television."

The judge made no final ruling yesterday on the Senate's request for permission to review more than 3,000 typed pages of Mr. Packwood's diary entries over the past five years, plus scores of the tapes on which he dictated his observations and thoughts.

The Senate lawyer said the committee needs to see everything, because "there cannot be trust" between the committee and the senator now that there is evidence that he had been altering both the tapes and the transcripts.

The judge gave each side more time to file added legal arguments in what has become a constitutional confrontation between the Senate and one of its senior members.

CHANGES IN THE DIARIES

Here are excerpts of Wednesday's sworn testimony of Cathy Wagner Cormack, who transcribed all of Sen. Robert Packwood's diaries. The questioning here is by Senate Ethics Committee staff lawyer Linda Chapman:

Ms. Cormack: I don't remember exactly when he called me and asked me to give the tapes back. . . .

Ms. Chapman: And when he called you, as best you can recall, what did he say?

A. As best I can recall, he said something about the possibility of a subpoena, and he didn't want me to have anything in my possession if that were to occur.

Q. . . . After Senator Packwood had given you back those tapes . . . you say . . . that it appeared to you . . . that he may have made some revisions to those tapes. Would you explain? . . .

A. . . . When I received the tapes back, when they were brought back to my possession, after he had taken them, I just, I sensed that there might have been alterations. And I just mentioned that to him.

Q. What was there that gave you that sense? . . .

A. Occasionally, there was a little bit of a difference in the tape, in the sound.

Q. . . . Can you describe a little bit more. It's hard sitting here, not being able to listen to them, to understand what it might have been. . . .

A. A difference in background noise or, you know, just a difference in volume . . . and I believe once or twice there might have been a break which was irregular. . . . I mentioned it to him at one point when I saw him. . . . I just asked him if he was making any changes or anything.

Q. And do you remember what he said? . . .

A. He basically confirmed that. . . . He knew that I knew. . . . Occasionally, he would ask me to make some changes in text [of the typed transcripts], not too often. . . . Sometimes he would mark up a piece of paper and I would redo it. And on a few occasions, he would dictate, on a separate tape, a few changes, and give me the pages.

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