Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), isolated from even his strongest defenders in the Senate, bowed to mounting demands for his ouster and tearfully announced Thursday that he intends to resign rather than bring further disgrace to an institution that has been his life for 27 years.
“It is the honorable thing to do,” Packwood said in his late afternoon announcement on the Senate floor that ended efforts to expel him. To the relief of many colleagues, Packwood’s decision concluded a three-year drama that had become something of a public spectacle for a Senate grappling with its first case of sexual harassment involving a member.
Packwood stood virtually alone in his fight to keep his post, the last of his Senate defenders having turned against him in a remarkable 24-hour period that saw the Senate Ethics Committee first vote, 6 to 0, to recommend his expulsion and then release more than 10,000 pages of documents detailing the evidence against him.
The committee had concluded that Packwood was guilty of an array of sexual harassment and official misconduct charges that amounted to a “pattern of abuse of his position of power and authority as a United States senator.” The documents contained many explicit descriptions of Packwood’s alleged actions and they resounded loudly on Capitol Hill throughout the day.
Packwood’s departure provided a solid victory for women’s organizations and senators who had come to regard the case as pivotal in the fight against sexual harassment.
“The Senate has zero tolerance for this kind of conduct and should send a message to every woman in America that the United States Senate recognizes that this conduct is unacceptable and will exercise the ultimate sanction--this is the atomic bomb; we can do no more than to expel a member,” Sen. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.), vice chairman of the Ethics Committee, said before Packwood spoke on the Senate floor.
Packwood announced his intention to resign in a somewhat rambling speech during which he touted his achievements, reminisced about his decades in the Senate, and finally, wept. He did not give a date for his departure.
Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) urged the Senate to give his longtime friend and colleague “some reasonable time” to get his affairs in order and to pave the way for a smooth transition for his as-yet unchosen successor to the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate sources said Thursday night that Dole was still negotiating with Democrats over Packwood’s departure date, and added that Packwood is likely to be gone in two to six weeks. His departure is certain to hurt progress on a host of GOP legislative priorities--welfare reform, tax cuts and Medicare restructuring, to name a few.
Packwood’s announcement climaxed a day that began when he appeared on morning television news shows to resist the growing clamor for his resignation.
A few hours later, however, Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), chairman of the ethics panel, and Bryan called a press conference to urge Packwood to resign.
“I think the evidence is compelling,” McConnell said. “And it seems to me the appropriate response would be resignation.”
McConnell said Packwood’s attempt to alter his diaries and mislead Senate investigators was “an obvious violation” of the law and that the panel had referred the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
“We haven’t received anything official yet but we will certainly take a look at it and give it a thorough and professional evaluation,” said department spokesman Carl Stern. But he cautioned that prosecutors would have to show Packwood acted with criminal intent, a difficult standard to meet.
A funereal aura permeated the ornate Senate chamber as Packwood made his announcement. He struggled most of the time to keep his composure, at times speaking so softly that some colleagues in the back rows cupped their hands to their ears as they leaned forward to hear.
For the most part, Packwood recalled happier days--citing his efforts to fight for abortion rights, environmental protection, aid to Israel and his critical role in the landmark 1986 tax reforms.
Afterward, a number of GOP colleagues rushed forward to praise Packwood’s service and the Oregon senator approached many of them to exchange hugs.
One particularly poignant moment came during an exchange between Packwood and Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Ida.), a member of the Ethics Committee. Afterward, they shook hands and hugged one another. Then Craig began sobbing and quickly strode into the GOP cloakroom, his hands covering his face.
There were also tears in two large sections of the visitors’ galleries--packed with members of Packwood’s personal staff as well as staff members of the Finance Committee.
In his talk, Packwood did not apologize. But neither did he attack his 19 women accusers or question the ethics investigation against him--as he had done as recently as Thursday morning.
In fits and starts, the Ethics Committee had investigated allegations that Packwood made unwanted sexual advances toward at least 17 women between 1969 and 1990. He was also accused of trying to destroy evidence by altering his private diaries before they were subpoenaed by the committee, and of seeking to use his official capacity to solicit a job for his then-wife.
Progress was stalled for nearly a year while Packwood resisted turning over his diaries, an issue that Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist finally resolved--in the Senate’s favor.
More recently, the Senate voted, 52 to 48, largely along party lines, not to conduct public hearings on the matter. But shortly after that, the committee said it was looking into two previously un-investigated cases against Packwood--one involving a minor.
As concerns about those allegations grew, Packwood made a politically risky move and it backfired. He reversed course and demanded public hearings so he could challenge his accusers.
The shift infuriated many of his GOP defenders who believed that they had stuck out their political necks by backing him and voting against the hearings.
The documents released by the committee included the account of a congressional elevator operator who said that Packwood kissed her numerous times against her will in 1977 during a three-flight ride between the basement of the Capitol and the second floor.
“There was never any time to say anything since the elevator trip was fairly short and he would grab me as soon as the doors closed,” Kerry Whitney said in a statement to the committee. “Also, I was intimidated. Senators were treated in an extremely deferential way, with the staff taught to act almost like servants to these powerful and influential men. I was afraid of losing my job.”
One evening, a drunk Packwood showed up at her apartment, demanded to stay the night and then banged on the door for several minutes after he was shown out.
Whitney had given him her telephone number and address when he asked for them, thinking that “he needed someplace to go and someone to talk to where he was not ‘on’ as a public figure,” she told the committee. “In retrospect, this was very naive of me, but I was young and naive at the time.”
The documents contained other accounts in which the senator had paid attention to a junior staff member or employee over a period of weeks or months and then suddenly sprung on them with an unexpected kiss or a lurid suggestion.
A member of another senator’s staff, who is not named in the documents, recounted in testimony that Packwood frequently stopped at her office to exchange pleasantries. One evening in 1979, after other employees had left, he stopped by and started chatting, she said. Then without notice, he “lunged down, kissed her on the lips and turned around and left without saying a word,” according to the documents.
Several times, when questioned about the incidents, including the one above, Packwood told the committee that he had no recollection of the women or the incidents. In each case, the committee said it verified the incidents.
On some occasions, Packwood, who has been treated for alcoholism, seemed drunk, the documents say. In others, the accusers said they smelled no alcohol and that he appeared sober.
McConnell said that the most damning evidence showed that he had altered tape recordings of his dictated diary before turning them over to the committee.
In one instance, Packwood altered a recorded diary entry in which he originally expressed concern that some early memos dealing with the allegations against him “would be very incriminating.”
“There is some damaging stuff,” he said in his original entry. “Actually, least of all damaging is probably the diaries, because in it there would be nothing about being a rejected suitor, only my successful exploits.”
Later, in retaping this entry, he spoke instead about how he hoped his diary entries would help his case because they would show that after some of the “alleged incidents” he had continued to spend time with his accusers.
At the press conference, McConnell spoke about the diary tampering--to which Packwood has admitted. “If this were a criminal court, Sen. Packwood would likely receive 10 to 16 months in prison as a first offender under the federal sentencing guidelines,” McConnell said. “The law itself allows prison sentences of up to five years. This is a gravely serious offense.”
Packwood also was guilty of using his position to benefit himself financially by soliciting jobs for the wife he was divorcing so that his alimony payments could be cut, McConnell said. Times staff writer Elizabeth Shogren contributed to this story.
* PANEL QUERIES SEN. GRAMM: Ethics Committee inquires about a possible violation of campaign finance laws raised by Packwood probe. A38
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
A summary of the 18 instances of alleged sexual misconduct against Sen. Bob Packwood, according to Ethics Committee affidavits:
1) 1990--In his Senate office, allegedly grabbed a woman staff member by the shoulders and kissed her.
2) 1985--At a campaign function in Bend, Ore., allegedly pushed his pelvis into a campaign worker as he danced with her and rubbed her back and buttocks area. Later that year, grabbed the worker’s face and forced his tongue into her mouth.
3) 1981 or 1982--In his Senate office squeezed the arms of a female lobbyist and kissed her.
4) 1981--In the Capitol’s basement, allegedly walked former staff assistant into a room where he cornered her against a desk, pushed himself against her and forced his tongue into her mouth.
5) 1980--In a parking lot in Eugene, Ore., pulled a campaign worker toward him, forced his tongue into her mouth and invited her to his motel room.
6) 1980 or 1981--At a hotel in Portland, abruptly kissed a hotel desk clerk on two occasions.
7) 1980--In his Senate office, grabbed staff member’s shoulders, pushed her on a couch, and kissed her on the mouth as she repeatedly tried to push him off her and get up.
8) 1979--Walked into another senator’s office and suddenly leaned down and kissed one of that senator’s staff members.
9) 1977--On numerous occasions in a Capitol elevator, pushed the elevator operator against the wall and kissed her. He also came to the operator’s home and asked her to make love to him.
10) 1977--In Oregon motel room while attending a conference, allegedly grabbed a prospective employee by the shoulders, pulled her to him and kissed her.
11) 1975--Called a staff assistant into his Senate office, pinned her against wall, grabbed her by her hair and with his free hand fondled her arm and chest. He also forced his tongue into her mouth.
12) 1975--In his Senate office, pressed himself against a staff member and kissed her.
13) Early 1970s--In his Oregon Senate office, chased a staff assistant around a desk.
14) 1970--In a Portland hotel restaurant, ran his hand up the leg of a hostess and touched her crotch.
15) 1970--In his Senate office, grabbed a staff member by the shoulders and kissed her.
16) 1969--In his Senate office, made suggestive comments to an interviewee.
17) 1969--At his home, grabbed a Senate employee who was babysitting for him, rubbed her shoulder and back and kissed her. When driving her home, touched her leg and put his arms around her.
18) 1969--In his Portland office, grabbed a staff member, stood on her feet, pulled her head backward and forced his tongue into her mouth. He also reached under her skirt and grabbed at her undergarments.
Compiled by D’JAMILA SALEM