The Senate Ethics Committee concluded Tuesday that there are credible grounds to believe that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood, R-Ore., may have violated Senate ethics rules, according to sources.
As a result of these findings, the sources said, the committee agreed to move to the final “investigation,” or trial phase, of its 30-month probe into allegations of sexual and official misconduct against the powerful five-term senator.
The committee’s action comes just as Packwood, chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over taxes and many big spending programs, is poised to play a pivotal role in upcoming debates over the budget, tax cuts and overhaul of the nation’s welfare system.
Complaints before the committee allege that Packwood made unwanted sexual advances to more than two dozen women, tried to intimidate some of them from talking about it, sought jobs for his former wife from people with interests in legislation, and tampered with possibly incriminating evidence in his diaries after they were subpoenaed.
Sources said the committee found grounds to proceed with further inquiry into the charges involving Packwood’s conduct with the women, jobs for his former wife and altering diary tapes and transcripts.
As required under Senate rules, the committee will offer Packwood the right to a public hearing. The committee could order such hearings on its own, as it did in the 1990-91 “Keating Five” investigation into ties between five senators and failed savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr., but has not reached this point in the Packwood inquiry, the sources said.
Packwood said early in the investigation that he wanted hearings to clear his name, but it is not known whether he still wants them. Some of the women who brought the initial allegations want public hearings.
The panel concluded the initial phase of its inquiry Tuesday, after a month of reviewing the results of a lengthy staff investigation and coming to agreement on its own conclusions.Some final wording decisions were left to be made by Chairman Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice Chairman Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev.
The committee’s findings are to be made public, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.
Members of the six-member committee, which is divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, declined to discuss the panel’s findings. Its decisions were confirmed by knowledgeable sources who are not officially connected with the committee.
The committee’s action came as the Justice Department is winding up a separate investigation into suggestions in the senator’s diaries that he may have sought help from lobbyists and others with interests before Congress to get a job for his wife Georgie to reduce his alimony payments in the late 1980s. She did not accept any of the jobs.
The statute of limitations covering the case runs out in June. The Oregonian newspaper quoted unidentified sources recently as saying witnesses have contradicted suggestions that Packwood solicited the jobs.
The 62-year-old senator, who has served in the Senate since 1969 and is a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., went to great lengths to rehabilitate his image since the women initially aired their allegations against him in late 1992. But the investigation always hung over him and threatens to break open again just.
The initial allegations of sexual misconduct and intimidation were broadened to include the jobs issue after the committee found a reference to the jobs in Packwood’s diaries, triggering a lengthy legal dispute over a committee subpoena for the diaries, which the committee ultimately won.