Packwood diary probe postponed

January 28, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Packwood struck a deal yesterday with Senate ethics investigators and a federal judge to postpone congressional investigation of his private diaries while he appeals to a higher court to keep them secret.

Under the deal, a former U.S. solicitor general and federal judge, Kenneth W. Starr, now a Washington lawyer, will take control of the diaries and ultimately have the job of filtering out parts not related to the Senate Ethics Committee's misconduct probe.

One likely consequence of the new agreement is that the Senate panel's investigation, already more than a year old, will be delayed perhaps for several months. The Senate's lawyer, Michael Davidson, however, told reporters that "we are not disappointed" by the deal.

Over the next several days, the Oregon Republican and his lawyer, Jacob A. Stein, will study the diaries to decide which parts they want to try to protect by pursuing an appeal from last Monday's decision by U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Jackson requiring Mr. Packwood to turn over all the diaries to the committee.

Even if Mr. Packwood ultimately loses his appeal, Mr. Starr may be able to keep some parts of the diaries out of the committee's hands, if he agrees with Mr. Packwood's specific claims to privacy. If Mr. Packwood's appeal succeeds, however, the committee is likely to get much less. It has already seen thousands of pages of the diaries, however.

Mr. Stein told reporters that it remained possible that the committee would get to examine at least some parts of the diaries even while the court appeal goes forward. "The senator is interested in cooperating with the Senate Ethics Committee," he added. Mr. Stein said he has not yet reviewed the Packwood diaries himself.

The lawyer stressed, however, that nothing in yesterday's deal requires Mr. Packwood to let the Justice Department use the diaries in a possible criminal investigation. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed the private documents. "That's a separate matter," Mr. Stein said. The Senate's Mr. Davidson agreed.

While the FBI will be copying the documents for the committee and Mr. Packwood, Mr. Stein said that does not give criminal investigators at the Justice Department any right to read the transcripts or listen to the videotapes. "I will rely on the integrity of the FBI" to prevent that from happening, he said.

The Senate committee has been investigating accusations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Packwood and allegations that he and his staff tried to intimidate or silence his accusers. More recently, the committee has decided to probe a possible misuse of the senator's official position to get a job for his estranged wife, and possible tampering with the diary tapes or transcripts after the committee became interested in them.

It will be former Judge Starr's responsibility to review the parts of the diaries that Mr. Packwood seeks to "mask" from the committee -- either because they refer to private family matters or to his dealings with his lawyers, or because they are outside the scope of the committee's investigation. He will act as something of an intermediary between the senator and the committee.

In the meantime, Judge Jackson will postpone his ruling to allow the committee's inspection and possible use of the diaries.

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