Ethics Committee Stiffens Standards In Packwood Vote
Unanimous tally may lead to senator's ouster
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While the charges of sexual misconduct, which Packwood described as ''overeagerly kissing women,'' were indeed the initial reason for the investigation, the expulsion seems to hinge just as much on Packwood's alleged attempts to use his influence to find a job for his ex-wife and to obstruct the committee's investigation by ''withholding, altering, and destroying'' his diaries.Skip to next paragraph
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A statement released by the committee Wednesday said the diary alterations ''constitute a crime against the Senate and are reprehensible and contemptuous of the Senate's constitutional self-disciplinary process.''
Last month, in a vote that split along partisan lines, the committee honored Packwood's opposition to public hearings. But after new allegations surfaced, Packwood began asking for hearings. The main focus of Wednesday's Ethics Committee meeting, it was believed, was to decide this question.
Instead, the expulsion order both lifts the veil of suspicion from the ethics committee, and protects the Senate from the spectacle of another set of incendiary hearings akin to Anita Hill's testimony during Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination process.
But Particia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, says the credit for the decision belongs less to the Senate and more to grass-roots pressure. ''The institution changes,'' she says, ''because the constituency changes and takes note.''
Indeed, the Senate had taken pains throughout the Packwood case to protect itself from further embarrassment. Soon after the scandal broke in 1992, the Senate Rules Committee met to discuss a petition from 250 Oregon voters who charged that Packwood's denial of the charges had robbed them of the right to an informed vote. Worried that granting this petition would provoke other voters to make similar claims, the committee threw it out.
In November, 1993, Packwood stirred up great anxiety in Congress when he hinted that his diaries contained sordid details of the sexual peccadiloes of other members.
But in the end, Packwood's apparent willingness to drag the Senate down with him inflamed the ethics committee and led to the expulsion ruling.
Ironically, the ruling comes at a time when Americans seemed to be slightly more forgiving of politicians' infidelities. While Gary Hart was ousted from the Democratic presidential race for a fling with a South Carolina woman in 1984, evidence of Bill Clinton's infidelities did little to derail his campaign. This summer, Hart has said that he was considering a Senate run because the electorate had ''grown up.''
But Josephson says Mr. Hart is only half right. The public has shown willingness to overlook weaknesses, he says, only if a politician acknowledges their wrongdoing and doesn't try to conceal anything. Packwood's biggest mistake, according to Ms. Ireland, was insisting that most of his sexual advances were ''just a kiss.''
Suzanne Garment, a fellow at the American Enterprise institute who has written a book about Washington scandals, says the expulsion vote should help to bridge the gap between the way scandal is viewed inside and outside Washington.