The Senate voted, 94-6, Tuesday night to seek federal court enforcement of an unprecedented subpoena for the diaries of Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.).
The overwhelming vote supported an Ethics Committee effort to obtain the diaries for its investigation of sexual harassment charges and possible criminal conduct by Packwood.
The action, following two days of often arcane arguments on the Senate floor, brushed aside Packwood's appeals for a compromise that would have avoided the showdown and a prolonged court battle over the demand for 3,000 pages of his memoirs.
The lengthy, legalistic debate, whose outcome never really seemed in doubt, reached an unexpected climax Tuesday evening when Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the president pro tem of the Senate and sometimes regarded as the conscience of the chamber, called on Packwood to resign.
"None of us is without flaws," Byrd thundered. "But when those flaws damage the institution of the Senate, it is time to have the grace to go!
"But Sen. Packwood has chosen to do the opposite . . . in spite of the continuing damage he is doing to the body by prolonging this matter and refusing to comply with the Ethics Committee's request."
Packwood was joined by only four other Republicans and one Democrat, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, on the dramatic vote that rejected claims that his privacy rights should take precedence over the subpoena for "very, very personal papers."
It was the first time that the Senate ever voted to enforce a subpoena issued to one of its own members.
Packwood, 61, who has said that he will not resign under any circumstances, fidgeted in his seat and slumped, chin in hand, as the votes against him were called out on a preliminary roll call.
His future is now more clouded than ever. In addition to the charges of unwanted sexual advances, the five-term senator now also faces a possibly more serious inquiry into whether he solicited lobbyists and campaign fund-raisers to provide a job for his wife in 1990.
Despite the stinging rebuff, Packwood was expected to continue the fight against the subpoena in U.S. District Court, the next arena for the battle.
"At this point, I think our inclination is to resist the subpoena on the grounds it exceeds the Fourth Amendment rights of the committee," Packwood's lawyer James Fitzpatrick said.
Hearings on such weighty issues as health care were put on hold as senators sought to use the nationally televised proceedings to demonstrate that the body could police its own house.
Many members of the Senate are still smarting from criticism over its handling of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and of the "Keating Five" savings and loan scandal.
Yet even as they labored, Byrd expressed concerns about how viewers perceived the debate. "The American public is watching and must be convinced that the Senate is dithering and delaying to protect one of its own," Byrd said.
The final vote came after Republican Whip Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) proposed an amendment to modify the scope of the subpoena by requiring only "relevant" documents to be submitted. It was called an emasculating amendment by Ethics Committee Chairman Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.), and it lost, 77 to 23.
"The proposal suggests that there be two standards," one for the Senate and one for other Americans, Bryan said of the compromise offer.
Besides his own vote, Packwood was joined by 21 other Republicans and Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico on that vote, while 22 Republicans joined 55 Democrats in opposition. Some senators who voted with Packwood argued that the committee subpoena was overly broad, while others apparently cast a sympathy vote.
California's Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted to support the Ethics Committee's request.
The Oregon lawmaker, accused of unwanted sexual advances by more than 20 women over two decades, had given sections of his diary to the committee.
The ethics panel found indications of criminal behavior in those sections and asked Packwood to supply additional portions. When he refused, it issued a subpoena.
Packwood said he objected to a wide-open subpoena for all the diaries because he feared the ethics panel would then be free to "rummage through (them) and find everything they can find. That is not fair."
Packwood has said that the committee now also is investigating whether he abused his office by encouraging lobbyists and two other friends to offer his wife, from whom he is now divorced, employment that would reduce potential alimony payments.
The Packwoods were in the midst of divorce proceedings in 1990 when the Oregon lawmaker apparently recorded in his diary several conversations with lobbyists and political supporters concerning job offers to his wife, Georgie.
At issue is whether Packwood violated criminal law or Senate rules by seeking help from lobbyists that ultimately would benefit him in a divorce settlement. Mrs. Packwood did not accept any job offers, which included serving on a corporate board, escorting foreign visitors on tours of antique stores, aiding a political consultant or going into an antique business in Oregon.
The panel's demand for diary entries relating to the job offers was rejected by Packwood, triggering a 6-0 vote to subpoena the documents and the follow-up request to the Senate for authority to ask the court to enforce the subpoena.
Danforth, a respected moderate voice, said that he favored some limits on the Ethics Committee's subpoena to avoid an unfavorable precedent.
"It is an enormously sweeping request, a violation of the basic principles of civil liberties set forth in the Fourth Amendment," Danforth said.
The subpoena calls on Packwood to produce "all diaries, journals or other documents or material, including all typewritten or handwritten documents, as well as tape recordings and all material stored by computer or electronic means" that are in his possession, which described his daily activities from Jan. 1, 1989, to the present.
"If we don't support the Ethics Committee in its efforts to complete this investigation, we will be sending a message that we are incapable of policing ourselves," Boxer said in a Senate speech.
"We will be sending a message that the Senate is willing to turn its back on possible criminal violations," she said.
Boxer called the alternative proposal a "cover-up amendment" because it would bar an independent examiner from providing the committee with information on other possible misconduct.