WASHINGTON — In an unusually contrite admission of wrongdoing, Sen. Bob Packwood acknowledged Friday that he has a drinking problem and suggested it may have played a role in his alleged sexual advances to women.
In a prepared statement, the Oregon Republican pledged to "seek professional advice in connection with my use of alcohol" and to request a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of the charges.
"If I take the proper steps, I hope my past conduct is not unforgivable," he said, referring to allegations by 10 women, most of them former staff members, who have charged that Packwood made unwanted sexual advances toward them in unrelated incidents stretching back to shortly after he was first elected to the Senate in 1968.
The statement came as Packwood, 60, continued to draw strong criticism from women's organizations, including the first formal request for an Ethics Committee investigation.
While Packwood admitted to no clear recollection of the events, his statement was distinctive for its candor--a marked contrast to those of many other federal officials accused of misdeeds in recent years. Packwood did not quarrel with the accounts of the women, nor did he lay the blame entirely on alcohol.
"Whether alcohol was a factor in these incidents, I do not know," Packwood said. "In any event, alcohol at best can only be a partial explanation, not an excuse."
The women, four of whom were identified Sunday by the Washington Post, claim Packwood made undesired and unreciprocated sexual advances, including grabbing them forcefully and kissing them against their will. Some women said the incidents occurred when he had been drinking.
Packwood's statement came less than a week after he issued a written apology for the incidents, most of which occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s. His statement Friday also expressed his regret. "I never consciously intended to offend any women," it said. "I therefore offer my deepest apologies to all those involved and to the people of Oregon."
Despite his comments, however, two of the women said they continue to believe Packwood should resign. Packwood, who could not be reached for comment Friday, has said he will not quit.
Julie Williamson of Portland, Ore., one of the alleged victims, told the Associated Press that Packwood's statement "appears to be an attempt to blame his behavior on alcohol," but "in the situation I was in, there was no alcohol involved."
Williamson was a Packwood staff member in 1969 when, at his Portland office, she said, he grabbed at her clothes, pulled on her ponytail and stood on her toes, and tried to remove her girdle.
Another woman, Maura Roche, said alcohol "may have been a factor" in her case, in which Packwood allegedly pulled out a binder and read several sexually explicit jokes to her while working in the office one evening in 1989.
Roche said: "I do not think that somebody who behaves this way deserves to hold the office that he has."
The formal request for an Ethics Committee investigation was filed by Gloria Allred of Los Angeles, president of the Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund.
"The American people have a right to know whether the accusations are true or false," Allred said in a prepared statement. "Coming forth with such allegations is not easy for women. Now the question is, will the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee investigate these charges."
In his statement, Packwood pledged to cooperate fully with any Senate ethics inquiry.
Several other women's groups have indicated they also would file formal requests for an ethics investigation, although they are divided over whether Packwood should resign or simply confess and apologize.