The Senate Ethics Committee issued Wednesday what amounted to a formal indictment of Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood, ruling that substantial evidence exists to begin hearings on allegations of sexual misconduct, misuse of his office for personal gain and evidence-tampering.
The ethics panel said it has documented 18 “credible” instances in which the Oregon Republican senator is alleged to have harassed or assaulted women - including Senate aides and campaign workers, an elevator operator, a waitress and even his own baby sitter.
“There is substantial credible evidence … that Sen. Packwood may have abused his United States Senate office … by engaging in a pattern of sexual misconduct” over a 20-year period, the committee said. The language was contained in the panel’s “resolution for investigation,” the legislative equivalent of an indictment, that concluded an inquiry dating back more than two years.
Even more serious for Packwood, the panel of three Republicans and three Democrats also unanimously ruled that “substantial credible evidence” exists to support a related charge that the senator sought to alter his personal diaries after they were subpoenaed by the committee 18 months ago. Unlike the allegations of sexual misconduct, which if upheld could result in a formal Senate rebuke, evidence tampering is a criminal offense.
The Justice Department is also investigating Packwood for evidence tampering. It stems from testimony before the committee by a former secretary who transcribed and typed Packwood’s racy diary entries. A Department spokesman said Wednesday that the review is continuing.
Further complicating Packwood’s legal problems, the Justice Department and the committee are looking into a third set of charges arising from entries discovered in his diaries. Those entries suggest that he improperly solicited job offers for his estranged wife from lobbyists in 1989 so that he could lower his alimony payments.
If found guilty by the Senate, Packwood’s punishment could range from a formal rebuke to loss of his committee chairmanship, to possible expulsion from the Senate - an extremely rare step that many consider unlikely. The Ethics Committee, co-chaired by Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., gave no immediate indication when it would convene the “investigative” phase of its inquiry. The committee began work in 1993, soon after the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced following the 62-year-old senator’s re-election to a fifth term.
Although no timetable has been set, sources close to the committee said it is expected to give Packwood several weeks to respond formally to the charges and prepare his defense. Another open question is whether the hearings will take place in public or behind closed doors.
“I did not have an opportunity to appear before the committee during the preliminary stage (of its investigation) and now I will,” Packwood told reporters who mobbed him at nearly every turn Wednesday. “Beyond that, these proceedings are confidential and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time.”
He also refused to comment on the specific allegations, although in the past he has acknowledged that, because of a drinking problem for which he has since sought counseling, his behavior toward women had been “terribly offensive” at times.
The committee listed 18 incidents, occurring between 1969 and 1990, for which it said sufficient evidence exists to warrant formal hearings.
Those included at least five occasions on which Packwood was alleged to have grabbed a woman and forcibly restrained her while he “kissed her and forced his tongue into her mouth,” the report said. In another incident at a Portland restaurant, “Sen. Packwood ran his hand up the leg of a dining room hostess and touched her crotch area,” the report said.
The committee also cited a Capitol Hill elevator operator who testified that Packwood had assaulted her on “numerous occasions,” pushing her to the wall of the elevator cab between floors and kissing her. “Sen. Packwood also came to this person’s home, kissed her and asked her to make love with him,” the indictment said.
He was also alleged to have fondled and kissed a baby-sitter minding his children in 1969 and to have once forcibly restrained a staff worker in his Portland office by standing on her feet, grabbing her hair and jerking her head back as he kissed her. In that incident, the charges said, the senator “also reached under her skirt and grabbed at her undergarments.”
“It would be better for Sen. Packwood, for the women, for the Senate if he were to resign,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., one of about a dozen lawmakers who first called for his resignation in November 1993.
Yet many of Packwood’s GOP colleagues rallied around him, noting that he deserves the presumption of innocence and praising the pivotal role he has played as Finance Committee chairman in shaping GOP health care and welfare initiatives.
“He is entitled to all the presumptions (of innocence) that any citizen is and until this is over he should continue his work,” said Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato, R-N.Y.