WASHINGTON -- The Senate ethics committee's inquiry into accusations of sexual misconduct by Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon boiled over yesterday into a public feud over whether the panel has an unfettered right to read the senator's voluminous private diaries.
The Senate Select Committee on Ethics maintains that it does, and disclosed that it has subpoenaed all of Mr. Packwood's diaries dating to 1989. The panel asked the full Senate late Thursday for permission to enforce the subpoena in federal court.
Yesterday, the senator's lawyer argued that the panel does not. He accused investigators of fishing through "thousands of pages" of the diaries for material unrelated to the charges against the Oregon Republican, who has served in the Senate for 24 years.
And in an apparent reminder to the lawmakers that curiosity can kill the cat, the lawyer, James F. Fitzpatrick, said parts of the diaries that the panel has demanded include accounts of affairs by another senator and "a member of the Democratic Congressional leadership" with Capitol Hill aides.
Mr. Fitzpatrick said Mr. Packwood has already provided large portions of the diaries to the ethics panel's investigators but would fight a subpoena that seeks unrestricted access to the rest of the diaries.
"We have no problem in turning over any materials relevant to the charges, and we're cooperating completely with the committee," Mr. Fitzpatrick said in an interview. "This has to do with their right to get possession of the diaries as a whole, roam through them and get access to whatever they want."
A spokesman for the ethics committee declined to respond to Mr. Fitzpatrick's statement.
But in a statement filed with the Senate late Thursday, the panel contends that Mr. Packwood has essentially failed to keep an agreement, made earlier this month, to let investigators read parts of the diaries that bear on the charges against him.
Mr. Packwood is accused of making unwanted sexual overtures to more than two dozen female aides in the last two decades and of intimidating them into remaining silent about the advances both personally and through other staff members.
The charges were made public shortly after he was elected to a fifth term last November, and the committee has been investigating them since February. Only in a deposition on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6 did the panel learn that the diaries, which date to 1969, contained relevant information, the panel said.