WASHINGTON -- Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist put an end yesterday to Sen. Bob Packwood's efforts in the courts to keep his private diaries out of the hands of Senate ethics investigators.
Pointedly, the chief justice said that evidence that the senator may have tampered with the audiotapes and written transcripts of those diaries appeared to put all their contents within the reach of the Senate Ethics Committee.
"Surely," the chief justice wrote in a three-page opinion, the committee "has the authority to investigate attempts to obstruct" its inquiry into charges of misconduct against the Oregon
Initially, the committee began more than a year ago to investigate claims that the senator made unwanted sexual advances to women over a period of years and that he used his senatorial position and his staff to intimidate women who might testify against him.
But after finding evidence that the senator had tampered with the diaries once the committee became interested in them, the panel broadened its probe to include a possible obstruction charge. It also has decided to look into indications that he may have used his Senate position to obtain a financial benefit for his ex-wife.
The chief justice was the last stop for Mr. Packwood's lawyers as they moved up in the courts in an attempt to thwart the investigators' subpoena for his diaries. With Chief Justice Rehnquist's denial of an order to block committee access to five years of diary entries, the committee staff is expected to begin receiving the tapes and transcripts within days.
The staff and the six committee members will use the diaries to help them decide whether formal charges of misconduct should be leveled against the senator.