Packwood Faces Formal Investigation Of Sexual Misconduct Allegations
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate ethics committee concluded it has enough evidence to pursue allegations that Sen. Bob Packwood repeatedly made sexual advances toward women, used influence with lobbyists and businessmen to get his wife job offers and obstructed the ethics probe.
In a five-page report released Wednesday, the panel alleged that Packwood committed 18 incidents of sexual misconduct from 1969 to 1990 toward his own and colleagues’ staffs, a dining room hostess, a hotel desk clerk, a babysitter, a campaign worker, a Capitol elevator operator and others.
The report suggests the five-term Republican senator from Oregon may have altered his personal diaries sometime in December 1992, knowing it was likely the committee would ask to see them _ a possible violation of federal law as well as Senate rules.
Wednesday’s report came at the end of a 2 1/2-year preliminary inquiry by the panel. The formal probe it will now launch ultimately could lead to punishments ranging from a rebuke to expulsion from the Senate.
Packwood, who became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee this year, also could be stripped of that title just when the panel is shaping crucial welfare and tax legislation.
He seemed shaken Wednesday morning as he emerged from a hearing he held on Medicare, voicing surprise that the ethics panel had listed each instance of alleged sexual misconduct.
While he has apologized in the past for ``terribly offensive″ behavior towards women, he refused to comment Wednesday on the report’s details.
In a formal statement, Packwood said he will now ``have an opportunity to request an appearance before the committee to discuss the matter _ as I did not have a chance to appear before the committee at this preliminary stage.″
Packwood did give a five-day deposition in January to committee staffers, but not to his fellow senators. The deposition has not been made public.
``Beyond that,″ Packwood said, ``these proceedings are confidential and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time. I shall continue to cooperate with the committee.″
In Oregon, three women who had accused Packwood of making inappropriate sexual advances expressed relief and surprise at the committee’s finding.
``I feel that the truth that I have spoken all along has been affirmed by the message that the ethics committee has given us today,″ said Gena Hutton. She was a young campaign worker in 1985 when she says Packwood fondled her as they danced at a function and then grabbed and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth.
Hutton and fellow accusers Mary Heffernan and Gail Byler appeared at a news conference called by Oregonians for Ethical Representation, a group that has called for Packwood’s ouster.
``There has to be tremendous political pressure to sweep this under the rug, so obviously the evidence has to be just tremendous,″ Heffernan said.
On Capitol Hill, Packwood’s fellow Republican senators stood by him.
Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., suggested that actions far in the past had no bearing and said, ``In my mind, he should continue exactly what he is doing. He does it very capably.″
Said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: ``He is doing a great job. I don’t see any change in circumstances.″
The report alleges that Packwood committed sexual misconduct in places ranging from his home and offices to a motel, a hotel, and the Capitol basement. The incidents include one in which Packwood allegedly ``ran his hand up the leg of a dining room hostess and touched her crotch area.″
The committee report also alleges that he grabbed a staff assistant and ``held her tightly while pressing his body into hers and kissed her on the mouth.″
In still another case, the report alleges that he pinned a staff assistant ``against a wall or desk, held her hair with one hand, bending her head backwards, fondling her with his other hand, and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth.″
The committee concluded that Packwood ``may have abused his United States Senate Office by improper conduct which has brought discredit upon the United States Senate, by engaging in a pattern of sexual misconduct between 1969 and 1990″ and ``by inappropriately linking personal financial gain to his official position.″ The latter allegation contends that he solicited or encouraged offers of financial assistance from people interested in legislation he could influence.
The report notes that some ethics committee members are concerned about giving too much weight to incidents alleged to have occurred before 1976, when the federal courts recognized sexual harassment as discrimination under the Civil Rights Act and the Senate passed a resolution banning sexual discrimination in the Senate.
The committee’s preliminary inquiry began in December 1992 with the sexual allegations and was later expanded to include the additional charges.
The question of whether Packwood approached businessmen and lobbyists with interests in legislation to try to get his wife a job came up as committee staff reviewed his personal diaries. The staff later looked into whether Packwood may have altered those diaries once he knew the committee was interested.
The alleged attempts to obtain job offers for his wife were said to have occurred when the Packwoods were getting divorced. Finding financial assistance for his wife could have lowered his alimony payments.