The Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend that Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood, R-Ore., be expelled from the Senate for sexual and official misconduct.
Packwood described the committee’s action as “totally and absolutely outrageous.”
He said he does not plan to resign to avoid expulsion, although he did not rule out the possibility of doing so.
In a stunning conclusion to its 2-1/2-year probe into allegations against the powerful Republican leader, the bipartisan panel brushed aside a variety of milder penalties and proposed that the Senate impose its strongest sanction.
It also brushed aside Packwood’s recent request for public hearings, which, ironically, may have played a role in producing a consensus for expulsion. Many senators, including some committee members, were appalled at the spectacle that hearings might create.
If the Senate fails to produce the two-thirds vote required by the Constitution for expulsion of a member, the committee said it would present another resolution recommending censure of Packwood and loss of his committee chairmanship and his 25 years of seniority in the Senate.
But the panel said it “strenuously urges and fully expects” that the resolution of expulsion will be approved.
If the Senate agrees with the committee’s recommendation, it would be the first time the Senate has expelled a member since the Civil War, when it ousted 14 Southern members for supporting rebellion against the United States. The committee last recommended expulsion in the corruption case known as Abscam, involving then-Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr., D-N.J., in 1982. Williams resigned before the Senate voted.
In the most serious allegation against Packwood, the committee found that he had “endeavored to obstruct and impede the committee’s inquiry by withholding, altering and destroying relevant evidence,” including diary transcripts. “These illegal acts constitute a crime against the Senate and are reprehensible and contemptuous of the Senate’s constitutional self-disciplinary process,” the committee said. Committee members said the diary materials will probably be forwarded to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
In its expulsion resolution, the committee also found that Packwood “engaged in a pattern of abuse of his position of power and authority” by making “at least 18 separate unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances (to women) between 1969 and 1990.”
The panel did not include two recent allegations of sexual misconduct, including one from a woman who was 17 at the time that she said Packwood grabbed and kissed her, but said they were “serious and appear highly credible.” They were not included to avoid further delay in the proceedings, the committee said.
In its third finding against Packwood, the committee found that he “abused his position of power … by engaging in a deliberate and systematic plan to enhance his personal financial position by soliciting, encouraging and coordinating employment opportunities for his wife from persons who had a particular interest in legislation or issues that Sen. Packwood could influence.” This was a reference to Packwood’s solicitation of jobs for his wife from lobbyists while the couple was divorcing in the late 1980s.
The force of the expulsion recommendation was buttressed by the fact that it was introduced by the panel’s Republican chairman, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Ky., who had been viewed as Packwood’s best bet for a staunch backer on the committee, according to committee sources. The sources said that Sen. Richard H. Bryan, Nev., the committee’s Democratic vice chairman, told McConnell Wednesday morning that he planned to introduce an expulsion resolution but that McConnell decided to do it himself.
There had been little talk of expulsion until the case involving the 17-year-old surfaced just before the Senate’s August recess. It grew after that and after Packwood reversed his opposition to hearings and asked for them, angering many GOP senators who had argued against hearings on his behalf when Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., tried to press the issue earlier this summer.
But one well-placed source said it was more “a combination of everything that happened” than any single event that pushed the panel toward expulsion.
“From the beginning, the committee has been appalled at the conduct (of Packwood) … and I think there was just a sense that the time had come to speak out,” Bryan said in an interview. “I think each senator struggled with it on their own.”
“It was not an easy decision to vote to expel a colleague from the Senate, but it was the right one,” said Republican committee member Larry Craig of Idaho.
At a news conference, Packwood issued a blistering statement accusing the committee of unfairness in its handling of the case, saying it denied him a chance to cross-examine his accusers and refused to consider exonerating statements from witnesses. “The committee has been the judge, jury and prosecution. This process makes the Inquisition look like a study in fairness,” he said.
On the specific charges, Packwood said the allegations about sexual misconduct were not sufficiently serious to merit expulsion. He said he had been accused of “perhaps over-eagerly kissing women,” not “drugging” or “robbing” them and claimed that, when rebuffed, he never approached them again.
He said there was no evidence he took any action in exchange for any jobs for his wife and noted that the Justice Department declined to prosecute on the basis of these allegations.
He said he altered some copies of the diaries because he feared they might be leaked but did not make any alterations in the originals that he gave to the committee. He denied he altered the diaries when he learned the committee might subpoena them, as the committee had alleged.
Packwood also released a lengthy “memorandum” in defense of his actions that he said he would have presented if the ethics committee had held public hearings.
The committee plans to release all its documentary evidence today, including thousands of pages of affidavits, depositions and other testimony by Packwood, his accusers and witnesses. Craig said he thought the documents would “cause the American people to understand why the Ethics Committee made the decision it has.”
Sources said the often fractious ethics panel gathered in a serious, but collegial manner as they began the 90-minute meeting that led to the expulsion vote. There never appeared to be any doubt about the verdict, one said.
After the vote, McConnell and Bryan informed Packwood of the decision and separately informed Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D. Packwood said he met briefly with Dole. He said no member of the Republican leadership urged him to resign.
If Packwood is expelled, he would lose his pension, health benefits and other privileges available to former senators. If he resigns, Packwood, who faces thousands of dollars worth of legal expenses from the case, would not lose them.