Packwood cannot keep his diaries from Senate panel, U.S. judge rules

January 25, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge ruled yesterday that Sen. Bob Packwood has no constitutional right to keep his personal diaries secret from Senate ethics investigators, and ordered them turned over promptly.

U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Jackson conceded that diaries are "extremely personal and private in nature," but said that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics had promised to respect the "sensitivities" of the Oregon Republican during its probe of alleged misconduct.

He rejected the senator's claim that the committee would "rummage" through the videotapes and typed transcripts without regard for Mr. Packwood's privacy. The panel, Judge Jackson said, would make a "focused," limited-in-time review of only "a fraction" of the diaries' contents, with "many passages masked to protect the most vital" privacy interests.

Lawyers for the senator and the ethics committee were told to meet with the judge in open court Thursday morning to work out the procedures for the committee's use of the documents.

The senator's press secretary, Bobbi Munson, said the senator would not comment on the ruling until he had gone over it with his Washington lawyer, Jacob A. Stein.

"There is no way of predicting when that will happen," she added.

Victor M. Baird, the committee's chief counsel, had no immediate comment.

For nearly 14 months, the panel has been reviewing accusations that the senator made unwanted sexual advances to female staff members and lobbyists and then tried to silence or discredit his accusers.

More recently, it has been looking into evidence -- hinted at in diary pages -- that Mr. Packwood may have misused his Senate office to help get a job for his estranged wife so he wouldn't have to pay as much alimony in a divorce.

For a time last fall, the beleaguered senator was cooperating with the committee, sharing some of his diaries. But he stopped when the committee wanted copies of diary pages that might have shown new and different forms of misconduct, including the alleged job for his wife. After a two-day debate on the Senate floor, involving a public airing of its embarrassing feud over the diaries, the Senate voted 94-6 to support the committee subpoena.

Judge Jackson, in upholding the committee subpoena for four years of diaries, said the Senate itself may be the only agency of government with the power to punish some kinds of senatorial misconduct. He noted that the Constitution protects members of Congress from being questioned "in any other place" about any legislative acts, including any that might be corrupt.

While Senator Packwood had complained that the committee subpoena was too broad, Judge Jackson said he had no authority to restrict the scope of the investigation. He specifically rejected separate constitutional claims by the senator that the subpoena violates his right of privacy under the Fourth Amendment and his right not to be forced to give criminal evidence against himself under the Fifth Amendment.

He found the scope of the inquiry into the diary entries to be "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment and said Mr. Packwood had prepared the diaries voluntarily, so he could not claim he was being forced to incriminate himself under the Fifth Amendment.

The Justice Department has subpoenaed the same Packwood diaries for use by a federal grand jury in a potential criminal investigation. While it had filed papers in the case that Judge Jackson decided yesterday, its documents were filed in secret, and the judge did not mention that aspect of the senator's legal troubles.

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