WASHINGTON -- A 3-year-old inquiry into allegations of sexual and official misconduct against Sen. Bob Packwood, simmering
in the background as the Oregon Republican rose to new prominence in the GOP-led Congress, has finally boiled over.
The Senate Ethics Committee announced yesterday that it will launch a formal investigation of charges leveled against Mr. Packwood by more than a dozen women. The inquiry could include public hearings and could result in a range of sanctions against him, including expulsion from the Senate.
A committee statement details 18 incidents between 1969 and 1990 during which Mr. Packwood is alleged to have engaged "in a pattern of sexual misconduct" by making unwelcome sexual advances toward Senate aides, campaign workers and a Capitol Hill elevator operator.
Further, the committee found that Mr. Packwood may have "brought discredit upon the United States Senate by inappropriately linking personal financial gain to his official position" by soliciting jobs for his former wife from businessmen with financial interests before his committee.
The Ethics Committee also found that Mr. Packwood might be guilty of official misconduct because he "intentionally altered diary materials that he knew or should have known" that the committee would seek in its inquiry.
The diaries were the subject of a fight on the Senate floor in 1993 after Mr. Packwood refused the committee's request to release them. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to force him to do so.
Mr. Packwood declined to comment yesterday on the committee's findings. But he said he welcomed the chance to address the charges directly before the committee, which would come as part of the formal investigation.
"At last I will have a chance to have a hearing," he said. He would not say whether he would seek to have the session held in public.
With the exception of the two-day floor debate over the diaries, the Packwood probe has been conducted behind closed doors.
For Mr. Packwood, 62, the timing could hardly be more awkward. Installed in January as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, the 26-year Senate veteran is positioning himself to play a pivotal role in some of the hottest issues to confront the Congress during his long career. He has been one of the leading voices on health care, welfare reform, and on the size and shape of any new tax cuts.
A close ally of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Mr. Packwood is viewed by many Democrats as a moderating influence on the Senate Republicans at a time when Mr. Dole is under pressure from the right wing of his party.
Last week, for example, Mr. Packwood announced that he would support President Clinton's nomination of Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr. to be surgeon general, which many conservative Republicans oppose.
Sen. Alan K. Simpson, a Wyoming Republican who was Mr. Packwood's staunchest defender in the diary fight, warned that Mr. Packwood's accusers face a grueling fight.
"These people are going to have their lives examined as they never have before," Mr. Simpson said. "That's not a threat. When you are trying to bring another down, you subject yourself to the same scrutiny."
But the Ethics Committee, which is composed of three Republicans and three Democrats, issued what many considered an unusually strong statement after many months of sifting through the evidence.
"I think those charges speak for themselves, and speak for the committee and how thorough we were," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, one of three Democrats on the committee.
Yesterday, there was a renewed call for Mr. Packwood's resignation from Sen. Barbara A. Boxer of California, one of several Democrats who had urged him to step down after the initial accusations were raised.
Republicans such as Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, who had also called for Mr. Packwood's resignation during the diary fight, generally chose yesterday to await a final recommendation by the Ethics Committee.
It is considered highly unlikely that the charges against Mr. Packwood could lead to his expulsion, a fate that has not befallen any senator since the Civil War. The final decision would be made by the full Senate. As the majority party, Republicans are in a position to spare Mr. Packwood, but it is not clear that they would do so.
Mr. Packwood's alliance with Mr. Dole may turn out to be a two-edged sword. Some senators say privately that Mr. Packwood is more inclined to do Mr. Dole's bidding on issues such as welfare reform and tax cuts for fear of losing the majority leader's protection against ethics sanctions.
But if the bipartisan Ethics Committee concludes that Mr. Packwood is guilty of misconduct and the charges against him )) generate public interest, Mr. Dole might have no choice but to side with the panel.
A PATTERN OF ACCUSATIONS
The Senate Ethics Committee said there was "substantial credible evidence" that Sen. Bob Packwood altered his diaries, improperly solicited financial support for his wife and engaged in a pattern of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he:
* In 1990, in his Senate office, grabbed a staff member by the shoulders and kissed her on the lips.
* In 1985, at a campaign function in Oregon, fondled a campaign worker as they danced. Later in the year, in saying good night, he grabbed the worker's face with his hands, pulled her toward him, and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth.
* In 1981 or 1982, in his Senate office, squeezed the arms of a lobbyist and kissed her on the mouth.
* In 1980, in a parking lot in Oregon, pulled a campaign worker toward him and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth and invited her to his motel room.
* In 1977, in an elevator in the Capitol, and on numerous occasions, grabbed an elevator operator, pushed her to the wall and kissed her. He allegedly went to her home, kissed her and asked her to make love.
* In 1975, in his Senate office, grabbed an assistant around her shoulders, pressed against her and kissed her.
* In 1969, at his home, grabbed an employee of another senator who was baby-sitting for him, rubbed her shoulders and back, and kissed her. He allegedly put his arm around her and touched her leg.