Only a day after the Senate acted to ensure closed hearings on sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), its Ethics Committee revealed that it is reopening the investigation because two more women “recently” filed complaints against the embattled lawmaker.
The committee had little else to say and questions about when the allegations reached the committee and when the alleged acts occurred went unanswered.
It was unclear if the new allegations would raise new questions about the committee’s investigation or whether there will be new pressure to conduct the rest of its inquiry in public.
Recalling her shock when told of the new cases by committee staff members, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a panelist, said:
“I was all set to talk about how we were going to go forward, you know, with the publication of the green book [containing the evidence against Packwood], the moving on to sanctions. . . . I’m sitting there, drinking a glass of iced water . . . poring over yet one more report . . . yet one more memo, and bam! “
“We knew there was a possibility of others” who might come forward to accuse Packwood of sexual improprieties, said Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Ida.), also a committee member.
Other knowledgeable sources attributed the eleventh-hour disclosure of the new allegations to an honest oversight by committee staff members who knew of the two additional cases as early as June.
The reopening of the committee’s investigation is likely to prolong what already has been a wrenching ordeal for Packwood and his 99 Senate colleagues.
Among the charges against Packwood are that he made unwanted sexual advances toward at least 17 women between 1969 and 1990, that he tampered with his private diaries before they were subpoenaed by the Ethics Committee and that he sought to use his official capacity to solicit a job for his former wife.
A terse statement by the Ethics Committee, issued after a late-afternoon meeting, said that the panel’s investigators will “pursue these new allegations” during the impending August recess “so that the record is complete.”
The statement added that the committee still “expects to conclude the case and release the full public record early in September.”
A number of senators appeared shocked at the news of the new allegations. Packwood himself would not stop to talk with reporters.
Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) approved of the committee’s new direction. “All complaints should be investigated and that’s what they’re doing,” she said.
“This is not done by a long shot,” added one Democratic senator, who asked to remain anonymous.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that the new allegations underscore the central point made by many Democrats on the Senate floor Wednesday: “This is exactly why we need public hearings.”
After a contentious debate that lasted more than four hours on Wednesday, the Senate voted, 52 to 48, not to open the hearings.
The Ethics Committee already has found “substantial, credible evidence” to support the charges against Packwood and was on the verge of deciding--and then forwarding to the full Senate--possible sanctions against Packwood. The potential punishments range from a simple reprimand to expulsion from the Senate.
Researcher D’Jamila Salem contributed to this story.