Ex-Volunteer: Packwood Tried to Gather Damaging Info on Accuser
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A former campaign volunteer said Friday that Sen. Bob Packwood called her last month trying to gather potentially damaging information about a woman accusing the Oregon Republican of sexual harassment.
Mabsie Walters, a former president of the Oregon chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said Packwood called her Nov. 9 to ask questions about Mary Heffernan, who founded the chapter.
Heffernan is among five women who have publicly said they were targets of unwelcome sexual advances from Packwood during his 24-year Senate career. Heffernan said that during a visit to his office in the early 1980s, Packwood grabbed her arms and kissed her.
Another of the five women, Julie Williamson, has said that a Packwood friend warned her last spring that her private life would be made public if she accused the senator.
Packwood has checked into an alcohol treatment facility this week, and, without admitting improper behavior, has apologized for any embarrassment he caused.
Walters, who has known Packwood since she was a volunteer in his 1980 campaign, said Friday that her conversation with the senator lasted 5 to 10 minutes.
″He asked me, ’Didn’t Mary Heffernan have a nervous break down?‴ Walters said. She said she told Packwood that she had never heard that.
Heffernan said she didn’t know why Packwood would ask that question. ″There is absolutely nothing like that in my history,″ she said.
The Washington Post published the allegations of sexual harassment against Packwood on Nov. 22, but had first interviewed the senator on the subject on Oct. 29.
Several Oregon Democrats have called for Packwood’s resignation. On Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Packwood should resign if the allegations prove to be true.
″If the charges are true, if they’re proven, then I think that his credibility is undermined and I think his character is as well,″ she said on the syndicated television program, ″John McLaughlin’s One on One,″ which was taped Friday for use this weekend.
Feinstein said Packwood’s long career defending and promoting women’s rights should be considered in judging him. But she added, ″You’ve got to practice what you preach.″
Walters said Packwood called her on Nov. 9.
″After I finished the call, I was curious why he wanted to know,″ Walters said Friday, in a telephone interview from Bend, Ore.
″After I saw The Post article and read in that he had tried to discredit the women, I felt differently about it,″ Walters said. ″I believe he was looking for detrimental information about one of the alleged victims.″
An aide in Packwood’s office said Friday there was no immediate response to Walters’ statements.
Prior to publication, The Post said, Packwood gave the newspaper several statements it said were intended to question the credibility of the women accusing Packwood.
Elaine Franklin, Packwood’s chief of staff, has refused to make those statements public. She said Packwood and his staff do not intend to comment specifically on any allegations or any of the women making the allegations.
Williamson said the thing that bothers her most is the extent to which Packwood and his associates allegedly have gone to pressure those making the allegations to keep quiet.
Williamson said a friend of Packwood’s, Ann Elias, telephoned her in May and warned that she’d best not make public her allegations about Packwood unless she wanted her personal past to be scrutinized publicly.
Elias, now living in Seattle, has declined comment. Franklin said on Monday she had no knowledge of such a telephone call.
″It’s the power that gives him the ability to do this,″ Williamson said. ″If he wasn’t a U.S. senator, he wouldn’t have the power to shut people up. He wouldn’t have staff people to cover it up. There are still five people out there in The Post story who are afraid to put their name on their allegations.″
Also Friday, 59 female members of the Oregon Farm Bureau sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell critical of the treatment of Packwood.
″We are heading for a modern witch hunt, in which men and women will be subject to losing their jobs over unsupported, unproven allegations of sexual misconduct. Our Constitution guarantees citizens of the United States due process under the law. Apparently, Packwood’s political opponents do not believe that this basic right applies to Bob Packwood,″ the letter said. ″They have judged him guilty without evidence and are now trying to hang him without trial.″