WASHINGTON — The Senate Tuesday night approved an unprecedented Ethics Committee subpoena for the personal diaries of Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) to aid its investigation of sexual harassment charges and other possible misconduct charges against him.
The 94-6 vote came after the Senate had brushed aside attempts by Packwood and other Republicans to limit the scope of the subpoena or to provide alternatives that would avoid a showdown or a prolonged court fight.
In the debate, veteran Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) charged that Packwood has hurt the Senate's reputation and called upon him to resign, saying: "It's time to have the grace to go." The six-member ethics panel had requested Senate authority to go to federal district court to enforce its subpoena against Packwood, triggering two days of tumultuous debate that most of the 100 members had hoped to avoid.
Hearings on such weighty issues as health care were put on hold while the Senate discussed the reach of the Ethics Committee in this and future disputes. The nationally televised debate was played out against the backdrop of a Senate eager to prove to the public that it could discipline its own. It was still smarting from criticism over its handling of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and of the "Keating Five" savings and loan scandal.
"The American public is watching and must be convinced that the Senate is dithering and delaying to protect one of its own," Byrd said, urging his colleagues to support the subpoena.
Packwood, whose dogged refusal to turn over 3,000 pages of his memoirs touched off the confrontation, charged that the request would violate his constitutional rights to privacy and set a precedent that would haunt Congress for years.
The 61-year-old lawmaker, accused of unwanted sexual advances by more than 20 women over two decades, had given sections of his diary to the committee. The panel found indications of criminal behavior in those sections and asked Packwood to supply additional sections. When he refused, it issued a subpoena.
Before the debate began, the Ethics Committee had voted unanimously to reject a plan advanced by Packwood to allow a former federal judge, Kenneth W. Starr, to screen his diaries and only forward entries to the committee relating to the initial sexual harassment charges and a new allegation that Packwood improperly solicited job offers for his wife from lobbyists.
That proposal was put forward as an amendment by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), but Specter withdrew it without a vote. It was opposed by leaders of the Ethics Committee on grounds that it would require Starr to ignore any other information in the diaries about possible misconduct by Packwood.
Senate Minority Whip Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) also tried to modify the subpoena by requiring that Packwood provide only "relevant" passages of his diaries to the ethics panel. Opponents, however, said that this would allow Packwood, rather than the committee, to select which items he would turn over to the panel and establish a higher standard of protection for senators than for other Americans.
Packwood has disclosed that the initial inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct and intimidation of his accusers has been expanded to include whether he abused his office by encouraging two lobbyists and two other friends to offer his wife employment that would reduce his potential alimony costs.
The Packwoods were in the midst of divorce proceedings in 1990 when the Oregon lawmaker apparently recorded in his diary several conversations with lobbyists and political supporters concerning job offers to his wife, Georgie.
At issue is whether Packwood violated criminal law or Senate rules by seeking help from lobbyists that ultimately would benefit him in a divorce settlement. Mrs. Packwood did not accept any job offers, which were to serve on a corporate board, escort foreign visitors on tours of antique stores, aid a political consultant or go into an antique sales business in Oregon.
"The issue was employment opportunities for my wife and whether there were some quid pro quo on legislation or anything like that," Packwood said.
"That is correct, as they relate to your official activities as a senator," added Sen. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.), chairman of the ethics panel.
The panel's demand for diary entries relating to the job offers was rejected by Packwood, triggering a 6-0 vote to subpoena the documents and the follow-up request to the Senate for authority to go to district court to obtain enforcement of the subpoena.
Danforth, a respected moderate voice, said that he favored some limits on the Ethics Committee's subpoena to avoid a bad precedent.
"It is an enormously sweeping request, a violation of the basic principles of civil liberties set forth in the Fourth Amendment," Danforth said.
The subpoena calls on Packwood to produce "all diaries, journals or other documents or material, including all typewritten or handwritten documents, as well as tape recordings and all material stored by computer or electronic means" that are in his possession which described his daily activities from Jan. 1, 1989, to the present.
Calfifornia's Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein voted to support the Ethics Committee's request to authorize a civil lawsuit to enforce the subpoena.
"If we don't support the Ethics Committee in its efforts to complete this investigation, we will be sending a message that we are incapable of policing ourselves," Boxer said in a Senate speech.
Feinstein did not speak during the two-day debate. Boxer called the alternative proposal a "cover-up amendment" because it would bar an independent examiner from providing the committee with information on other possible misconduct.