September 8, 1995 in Nation/World

Weight Of Evidence Breaks Packwood Senator Resigns After Committee Releases Massive Report On Misconduct

Katharine Q. Seelye New York Times
 

As his colleagues watched grimly, Sen. Bob Packwood resigned Thursday, hours after the Senate Ethics Committee released a 10-volume report, much of it in his own hand, of his personal and official conduct.

Packwood did not say when he would leave. Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., told the Senate Packwood should be given “a reasonable time.” Later, Dole translated that into 90 days, a period that would allow Packwood, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to manage critical Republican legislation over the next several weeks.

It was not clear whether Democrats - or, indeed, many Republicans - would accept such an unusual arrangement.

In his resignation speech, Packwood said he is “aware of the dishonor that has befallen me in the last three years.” The tearful Oregon Republican told the hushed chamber, “It is my duty to resign.” Later, he added, “I leave this institution not with malice but with love.”

Sinking back into his chair and clutching the hand of his longtime political aide, Elaine Franklin, Packwood ended his 27-year career as the junior senator from Oregon. For the last three years, he has been fighting accusations that he had discredited himself and the institution he said he loves.

Until Thursday, most of his colleagues knew only the sketchiest details of the sexual misconduct, obstruction of justice and ethics charges against him. But Wednesday, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics voted unanimously for his expulsion, and Thursday morning, it released 10 volumes of evidence it had collected.

Consisting of 10,145 pages and weighing 40 pounds, it described in sometimes startling detail Packwood’s activities of the last quarter century as a senator.

“These were not merely stolen kisses, as Sen. Packwood has claimed,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Ethics Committee, said in describing Packwood’s “physical coercion” of dozens of women. “There was a habitual pattern of aggressive, blatantly sexual advances, mostly directed at members of his own staff or others whose livelihoods were connected in some way to his power and authority as a senator.”

Most disturbing to McConnell, R-Ky., whose committee had been investigating the case for 33 months, was what he called Packwood’s “cover-up” of his criminal activities.

He said that Packwood’s “deliberately altering and destroying relevant portions of his diary” - portions that Packwood described in the diary itself as “very incriminating information” - would earn him 10 months to 16 months in prison if he were tried in criminal court.

The Ethics Committee said Thursday it would refer the charges to the Justice Department, where they may prompt an inquiry. “This is a gravely serious offense,” McConnell said.< The senator whom McConnell described Thursday morning as guilty of “gross and persistent misconduct” was markedly different from the senator who was eulogized Thursday afternoon on the floor as his colleagues endured the spectacle of one of their own cut down at the height of his power. Packwood was chairman of the Senate’s pivotal Finance Committee, and much of the Republican agenda and its promise to overhaul the way government works was riding on his shoulders.i

His resignation changed the mood of the Senate chamber as his friends, starting with fellow Oregonian Mark O. Hatfield, extolled his virtues. Hatfield, a former professor of political science who once had Packwood in class, hailed him as his “most brilliant student” and declared that the “political nightmare” that Packwood had suffered was over. Packwood rose and hugged him. Both were in tears.

Packwood, who had been telling his top staff as late as noon Thursday that would not resign, emerged onto the Senate floor about 4:30 p.m. Given his chance to write his own political obituary, he recapped the high points of his career, reminding his colleagues of his successes over the years, including his lonely fight for abortion rights, his championing of Israel and his overhaul of the tax system in 1986. Then he made his tearful farewell.

“The Bob Packwood we heard today is the Bob Packwood we’ve known over the years,” said Sen. Bob Dole, the majority leader, who looked as if a dark storm were playing out over his visage. Indeed, Dole, whose presidential campaign has been losing some of its momentum lately, has been relying on Packwood to steer the Republicans’ sweeping economic program through the Finance Committee and shepherd it into law.

On the other hand, the prospect of Packwood’s wrangling with his Senate accusers was an unpalatable alternative for Dole, who is basing his presidential bid on his “leadership” of the Senate. He concluded his remarks by saying, without elaboration, that Packwood “made the right decision.”

The senators listened in silence to Packwood and to the handful of his colleagues who rose to speak about him.Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., derided the Ethics Committee process, as did Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. The committee was created, Simpson said, “to avoid a public hanging, frontier justice and vigilante justice” but “something surely has gone awry.” Tourists in the gallery applauded.

When Simpson lauded Packwood for championing women’s rights, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., nodded in assent. By that time, Barbara Boxer, her California colleague, who agitated for Packwood’s resignation and tried to force the Senate to hold public hearings in his case, had left the chamber.

Two Democrats joined the eulogizing. The first, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., who is Packwood’s closest friend in the Senate, seemed truly distraught and, for once, at a loss for words. “I haven’t prepared remarks because I’m not especially prepared,” he said. He rambled briefly, concluded by saying “the greatest of these is love,” and sat down.

The second Democrat was Mrs. Feinstein, who unexpectedly delivered a gracious tribute to Packwood, whom she said she hardly knew. She said that her father always told her to remember a man by what he did best, not by what he did last.

“We do make mistakes,” she said, “but it is a sign of a wise man and even a giant man who stands and does what needs to be done and goes on to fight another day.”

Packwood, apparently surprised and overwhelmed, crossed the floor, clutched her hand and cried.

When the speeches stopped, the few senators who remained in the chamber went up to Packwood, instead of avoiding him as they had in recent weeks. Sen. Larry E. Craig, R-Idaho, a member of the Ethics Committee, sobbed as he hugged Packwood.

In Oregon, both Republican and Democratic contenders began jockeying Thursday to succeed Packwood in a special election, which Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, must call under state law. In Oregon the governor is not empowered to name an interim senator, but must set an election date, possibly before the end of the year.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, 48, a congressman from Springfield, has already declared himself a candidate, and Ron Wyden, 46, a congressman from Portland, is expected to announce soon.

On the Republican side, the early favorite is Gordon Smith, 43, the president of the Oregon Senate.

Packwood apparently will keep his annual pension of $82,922.


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