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Packwood Reverses, Calls for Public Hearings on Charges

By David G. Savage
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Embattled Sen. Bob Packwood, under investigation for more than two years over alleged sexual misconduct, announced Friday he wants public hearings on the complaints against him and a "public cross-examination" of his female accusers.

The surprise reversal by the Oregon Republican intensifies the spotlight on a festering controversy many senators hoped would just go away. And it creates the possibility of another embarrassing spectacle for the Senate, akin to the 1991 hearings over alleged sexual harassment involving Law Prof. Anita Hill and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Earlier this month, Senate Democrats, led by California Sen. Barbara Boxer, demanded a public airing of the charges against Packwood. On a largely party-line vote, the Senate rejected her request on 52-48.

Packwood's switch means hearings are now almost certain.

The National Organization for Women called Packwood's announcement "a political act of desperation by a desperate man."

Packwood said he changed his mind about the need for public hearings because Boxer and the Democrats, invoking the new gender politics, were accusing the male-dominated Senate and its Republican majority of covering up the charges filed by women.

Altogether, 19 women have complained that Packwood made crude advances to them since 1969. Many said they were surprised when the senator grabbed them and kissed them.

"It was a dangerous day when Sen. Boxer politicized the ethics process," Packwood said in a statement.

Senate Republican aides say Boxer's strong attack has stiffened the backs of key Republicans. Ethics Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for example, recently suggested that the panel perhaps should hold hearings on the 1969 incident in which a female former Senate staffer drowned when Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., drove his car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island.

Packwood's announcement culminates a week in which he and a new team of lawyers waged an aggressive campaign to raise doubts about some of his accusers, and to portray his past conduct as merely occasional clumsy gropings by a normally reserved man.

Packwood and his supporters complained about what they say is one-sided press coverage that repeats the allegations without investigating "discrepancies" in their accounts.

On Wednesday, Charles and Jeanette Slepian, a husband and wife team of Portland, Ore., lawyers, filed four depositions with the Ethics Committee undercutting a complaint filed by Gena Hutton, a former campaign volunteer from Eugene.

Hutton has alleged that in 1980, Packwood grabbed her in a parking lot after a meeting, forcibly kissed her, and suggested they go to a motel. Shaken by the incident, she said she had nothing more to do with the senator. Recently, she spoke at a Portland press conference urging the Senate to take strong action against Packwood.

But in one deposition, John R. Morrison, a real estate developer now living in Gig Harbor, Washington, said he worked with Hutton as a volunteer during the same 1980 campaign and observed her locking arms with Packwood at private dinners.

In three other depositions, former campaign volunteers stated that Hutton was an active participant in later Packwood campaigns through 1986.