WASHINGTON -- Three days after Sen. Bob Packwood warned that releasing his diaries would embarrass other senators, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics said yesterday that the diaries suggest the Oregon senator may have been involved in criminal activities.
The chairman, Sen. Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., did not say what was in the diaries, what charges were under investigation, or how serious they might be.
But his assertion was the first indication that the ethics panel was looking into possible criminal wrongdoing by Mr. Packwood that was unrelated to the initial reasons for the ethics inquiry -- accusations of sexual misconduct.
"While reviewing the diaries the committee counsel came across information indicating possible misconduct by Senator Packwood unrelated to the current inquiry," Mr. Bryan said in a letter submitted yesterday for publication in the Congressional Record. "This information raised questions about a possible violation of one or more laws, including criminal laws."
Mr. Packwood, who spoke about the ethics inquiry on the Senate floor yesterday, did not address the question of whether he committed any criminal conduct.
Mr. Bryan's letter also explains for the first time why the ethics committee has asked the Senate for permission to subpoena thousands of pages of Mr. Packwood's personal diary, even though the panel acknowledges that most of it does not pertain to its investigation into accusations that the senator made unwanted sexual advances on more than two dozen women and then tried to intimidate witnesses.
Mr. Bryan's statement set off a new round of finger-pointing in what is becoming a noisy and divisive spectacle. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas sharply criticized Mr. Bryan yesterday from the Senate floor.
"This is almost a prejudgment here," Mr. Dole said. "It seems to me it ought to be followed up with a charge or it ought to be retracted."