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Senate Packwood Hearing Carries into Second Day

By William J. Eaton
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

The Senate, facing an unprecedented confrontation with one of its members, wrestled Monday with whether to go to court to force Republican Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon to turn over hundreds of pages of personal diaries as part of an ethics committee investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and possible criminal wrongdoing.

After seven hours of often tedious debate over legal technicalities and constitutional questions, the Senate retired for the night, its leaders vowing to vote sometime Tuesday on whether to support the committee's effort to obtain the diaries by subpoena.

So sensitive was the issue that by nightfall Monday no senator had openly defended Packwood, although several had raised legal points on his behalf. And while only a few indicated how they would vote, informal comments by others demonstrated that Packwood faces an uphill fight in his effort to persuade the Senate to side with him on privacy grounds.

"We are being tested here," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "Let's tell the American people we are not going to cover up and we're not going to have a double standard."

Throughout the day, a visibly nervous Packwood pleaded for his colleagues' support, arguing in characteristically forceful style that forcing him to surrender the disputed pages of his diaries would violate his constitutional right to privacy and set a dangerous precedent. He even dangled hopes for a last-minute compromise in which an independent legal expert would review the documents and decide which ones were relevant.

"No one had ever seen them except the woman who typed them. ... My former wife never saw them, my children, no other staff member ...," said Packwood, in arguing to withhold the memoirs. "Is there humor in them? Sure. Is there nasty comments about some of you when I got mad at something? Sure. Are there warm comments? You bet. They're personal beyond all measure."

But members of the Senate Ethics Committee, which had voted unanimously to press its quest for the diaries with a subpoena, brushed aside Packwood's concerns -- and apparently his offer of compromise -- arguing with equal passion that nothing less than the Senate's integrity was at stake in the dispute.

"I deeply regret the necessity of being here this afternoon but the actions of Senator Packwood and his counsel leave us no alternative," said ethics committee chairman, Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev.

For several months, the Ethics Committee has been investigating allegations of sexual harassment against the 61-year-old Packwood. As part of that probe, committee counsel has been reviewing thousands of pages of his diaries, which initially were offered by Packwood to help prove his innocence. In the course of its perusal of the diaries, however, the committee uncovered what it said was evidence of possible criminal conduct and sought additional entries. But Packwood balked, claiming the request violated his privacy.

Last week, in what was viewed by some as a thinly veiled threat, Packwood disclosed that some of his entries contained information about the romantic lives of some of his colleagues.

Undeterred, however, the committee voted to subpoena the documents and, after Packwood failed to comply, on Monday sought the full Senate's approval to proceed to a court hearing.

Accompanied in a special arrangement by two of Washington's highest-priced attorneys, Packwood accused the ethics panel of acting as "prosecutor, jury and judge" in his case. Later, he said he was "confused" about just what information the committee wanted, although Bryan said his lawyers were fully informed about the details.

But he failed to shatter the united front of the three Democrats and three Republicans who voted to subpoena the diaries.

In one of his few direct references to the sex-tinged diaries, Packwood said one entry recorded the statement of one of the women who has filed a complaint against him a year after the alleged harassment. As Packwood related the incident:

"This one (woman) who had complained was drinking wine with me in the office one night. She stood up, approached me, put her arms around me and gave me a great big kiss and said: `You are wonderful.' I responded: `Warts and all?' And she laughed and she knew the reference."

As Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the only woman on the panel, put it: "We are not the Senate select committee on voyeurism. ... We need access to the facts, and we need to be able to follow all leads."