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SENATOR PACKWOOD RESIGNS : Tearful Packwood Bows to Pressure, Says He'll Resign : Senate: 'It is the honorable thing to do,' disgraced lawmaker says, ending a three-year drama. At end, even his staunchest backers recoiled from misconduct charges.

September 08, 1995|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In fits and starts, the Ethics Committee had investigated allegations that Packwood made unwanted sexual advances toward at least 17 women between 1969 and 1990. He was also accused of trying to destroy evidence by altering his private diaries before they were subpoenaed by the committee, and of seeking to use his official capacity to solicit a job for his then-wife.

Progress was stalled for nearly a year while Packwood resisted turning over his diaries, an issue that Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist finally resolved--in the Senate's favor.

More recently, the Senate voted, 52 to 48, largely along party lines, not to conduct public hearings on the matter. But shortly after that, the committee said it was looking into two previously un-investigated cases against Packwood--one involving a minor.

As concerns about those allegations grew, Packwood made a politically risky move and it backfired. He reversed course and demanded public hearings so he could challenge his accusers.

The shift infuriated many of his GOP defenders who believed that they had stuck out their political necks by backing him and voting against the hearings.

Elevator Operator

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.

"There was never any time to say anything since the elevator trip was fairly short and he would grab me as soon as the doors closed," Kerry Whitney said in a statement to the committee. "Also, I was intimidated. Senators were treated in an extremely deferential way, with the staff taught to act almost like servants to these powerful and influential men. I was afraid of losing my job."

One evening, a drunk Packwood showed up at her apartment, demanded to stay the night and then banged on the door for several minutes after he was shown out.

Whitney had given him her telephone number and address when he asked for them, thinking that "he needed someplace to go and someone to talk to where he was not 'on' as a public figure," she told the committee. "In retrospect, this was very naive of me, but I was young and naive at the time."

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.

A member of another senator's staff, who is not named in the documents, recounted in testimony that Packwood frequently stopped at her office to exchange pleasantries. One evening in 1979, after other employees had left, he stopped by and started chatting, she said. Then without notice, he "lunged down, kissed her on the lips and turned around and left without saying a word," according to the documents.

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 say. In others, the accusers said they smelled no alcohol and that he appeared sober.

McConnell said that the most damning evidence showed that he had altered tape recordings of his dictated diary before turning them over to the committee.

In one instance, Packwood altered a recorded diary entry in which he originally expressed concern that some early memos dealing with the allegations against him "would be very incriminating."

"There is some damaging stuff," he said in his original entry. "Actually, least of all damaging is probably the diaries, because in it there would be nothing about being a rejected suitor, only my successful exploits."

Later, in retaping this entry, he spoke instead about how he hoped his diary entries would help his case because they would show that after some of the "alleged incidents" he had continued to spend time with his accusers.

At the press conference, McConnell spoke about the diary tampering--to which Packwood has admitted. "If this were a criminal court, Sen. Packwood would likely receive 10 to 16 months in prison as a first offender under the federal sentencing guidelines," McConnell said. "The law itself allows prison sentences of up to five years. This is a gravely serious offense."

Packwood also was guilty of using his position to benefit himself financially by soliciting jobs for the wife he was divorcing so that his alimony payments could be cut, McConnell said. Times staff writer Elizabeth Shogren contributed to this story.

* PANEL QUERIES SEN. GRAMM: Ethics Committee inquires about a possible violation of campaign finance laws raised by Packwood probe. A38

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The Complaints

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