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Packwood Gives Up Fight; Says He Will Leave Senate

By Edwin Chen
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., isolated from even his strongest defenders in the Senate, bowed to mounting demands for his ouster and tearfully announced Thursday that he intends to resign rather than bring further disgrace to an institution that has been his life for 27 years.

"It is the honorable thing to do," Packwood said in his late-afternoon announcement on the Senate floor that ended efforts to expel him. To the relief of many colleagues, Packwood's decision concluded a three-year drama that had become something of a public spectacle for a Senate grappling with its first case of sexual harassment involving a member.

Packwood stood virtually alone in his fight to keep his post, the last of his Senate defenders having turned against him in a remarkable 24-hour period that saw the Senate Ethics Committee first vote, 6-0, to recommend his expulsion and then release more than 10,000 pages of documents detailing the evidence against him.

The committee had concluded that Packwood was guilty of an array of sexual harassment and official misconduct charges that amounted to a "pattern of abuse of his position of power and authority as a United States senator." The documents contained many explicit descriptions of Packwood's alleged actions.

Packwood's departure provided a solid victory for women's organizations and senators who had come to regard the case as pivotal in the fight against sexual harassment.

"The Senate has zero tolerance for this kind of conduct and should send a message to every woman in America that the United States Senate recognizes that this conduct is unacceptable and will exercise the ultimate sanction - this is the atomic bomb; we can do no more than to expel a member," Sen. Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., vice chairman of the ethics committee, said before Packwood spoke on the Senate floor.

Packwood announced his intention to resign in a somewhat rambling speech during which he touted his achievements, reminisced about his decades in the Senate, and finally, wept. He did not give a date for his departure.

Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., urged the Senate to give his longtime friend and colleague "some reasonable time" to get his affairs in order and to pave the way for a smooth transition for his as-yet unchosen successor to the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee.

Even so, his departure is certain to hurt progress on a host of GOP legislative priorities - welfare reform, tax cuts and Medicare restructuring, to name a few.

In his talk, Packwood recalled happier days - citing his efforts to fight for abortion rights, for environmental protection, aid to Israel and his critical role in the landmark 1986 tax reforms.

Afterward, a number of GOP colleagues rushed forward to praise Packwood's service and the Oregon senator approached many of them to exchange hugs.

One particularly poignant moment came during an exchange between Packwood and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, a member of the Ethics panel. Afterward, they shook hands and hugged one another. Then Craig began sobbing and quickly strode into the GOP cloakroom, his hands covering his face.

Packwood did not apologize during his announcement. But neither did he attack his 19 women accusers or question the ethics investigation against him - as he had done as recently as Thursday morning.

The documents released by the committee included the account of a congressional elevator operator who said that Packwood kissed her numerous times against her will in 1977 during a three-flight ride between the basement of the Capitol and the second floor.

The documents contained other accounts in which the senator had paid attention to a junior staff member or employee over a period of weeks or months and then suddenly sprung on them with an unexpected kiss or a lurid suggestion.

Several times, when questioned about the incidents, including the one above, Packwood told the committee that he had no recollection of the women or the incidents. In each case, the committee said it verified the incidents.

On some occasions, Packwood, who has been treated for alcoholism, seemed drunk, the documents said. In others, the accusers said they smelled no alcohol and that he appeared sober.