Senate ethics panel backs expulsion of Packwood

September 07, 1995|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- In a stunning development, the Senate Ethics Committee recommended unanimously yesterday that Bob Packwood be expelled from the Senate for a long pattern of groping and kissing women against their will and for obstructing an investigation of his actions.

Last night, Mr. Packwood angrily denounced the committee's actions and said he had no plans to resign. "I want to think about this for a minute, and I want to talk to some people and I am not going to make instantaneous decisions," he said at a news conference.

The 6-0 decision by the committee, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, was an unexpectedly sharp repudiation of the Oregon Republican.

Expulsion is the most severe penalty the Senate can exact. No senator has been recommended for expulsion since 1982, when Harrison Williams, a New Jersey Democrat, was caught in the Abscam influence peddling scandal. Mr. Williams resigned just before the Senate vote.

Two-thirds of the Senate must approve an expulsion, but it appeared likely that the committee's decision had the blessing of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Committee leaders met with Mr. Dole last night before announcing their decision in a statement that declared that the committee "fully expects" its recommendation to be approved.

No one seemed more surprised by yesterday's development than Mr. Packwood, 63, who, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key ally of Mr. Dole, is one of the most influential members of the Senate. He called the Ethics Committee vote "totally and absolutely outrageous" and said "the entire process is so unfair."

Mr. Packwood, who had earlier waived his right to public hearings on the allegations against him, changed his mind two weeks ago. He has since been campaigning through the news media to persuade his colleagues to allow a public airing of the charges, complete with cross-examination and defense witnesses.

"I've never had a chance to cross-examine my accusers," he protested at the news conference last night. "This process makes the Inquisition look like a study in fairness."

Mr. Packwood said he had no idea whether he has any chance of defeating the expulsion recommendation, much less of convincing the Senate to reopen the question of public hearings.

In fact, Mr. Packwood's decision to reverse course on public hearings and turn his attack on the Ethics Committee might have been the last straw for many colleagues, some of whom had grown impatient with the inquiry he has helped drag out for nearly three years.

"Senator Packwood has shown a flagrant disregard for the victims, the Senate and the citizens of Oregon," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the Ethics Committee, said last night.

"Senator Packwood has been treated with every courtesy. . . . And now at this late date, with the facts in, when there is substantial credible evidence that he abused women, abused power and dishonored the Senate, he is hiding behind the very processes he chose not to pursue.

She said the most serious charge against Mr. Packwood was that he "intentionally obstructed the committee's inquiry by tampering with his diary" before turning copies over to the panel in response to a subpoena.

Further, most of the senators appear in no mood to subject the Senate to what even Mr. Packwood has predicted would be a lurid spectacle of public hearings in which there could be open debate over the details of sexual encounters.

"Is that good for the Senate? I'm not sure that it is," Sen. Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican, said Tuesday before the Ethics Committee vote. "There is some feeling that the committee should just go ahead with its recommendations."

Last month, most of Mr. Packwood's Republican colleagues backed him, on a vote of 52-48, to reject a call for public hearings led by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and supported by other female senators.

Even so, the Ethics Committee's decision to recommend Mr. Packwood's expulsion was unexpectedly severe. When the Senate recessed last month, most senators had expected the penalty to be a formal censure and a stripping of Mr. Packwood's chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

"I don't believe any of us who are not on the committee believed dTC that this severe penalty would be recommended," Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said last night.

Mr. Packwood said he had asked the chairman of the Ethics Committee, Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, whether the expulsion recommendation was based on the allegations concerning women or on the other charges. He said that Mr. McConnell replied that the committee members had varying reasons.

The case against Mr. Packwood stems from allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct with 19 women over more than two dozen years. In one case, which came to light this summer, the woman was a 17-year-old intern at the time of the alleged offense.

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