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Ethics Panel To Face Crucial Decision on Packwood Probe

December 20, 1994 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Bob Packwood will be chairman of the Senate Finance Committee by the time the Senate Ethics Committee acts on sexual misconduct allegations against him and some Democratic senators say they are worried about the situation.

Speaking privately, they say they are concerned Republican senators might try to protect Packwood - who will play a pivotal role in tax-cut legislation - when the ethics committee decides in late February or March whether to hold hearings or, possibly, recommend that the Oregon Republican be punished by the Senate.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky likely will become Ethics Committee chairman in the new Congress, switching places with Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev. But the committee, counting McConnell, remains split 3-3 between Republicans and Democrats.

Asked recently whether Republicans might be inclined to protect Packwood, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, ″I would hope not.″

″I think it would backlash against them if they did that,″ she said. ″It would not be well accepted by the voters if they would try to do a whitewash.″

Suzanne Garment, who studies political ethics at the American Enterprise Institute, said it would not be surprising if some Republicans were inclined to protect their colleague, although ″maybe some would be afraid that seeming to protect him would be a political liability.″

More than two dozen women, including some former Senate employees, have accused Packwood of grabbing and kissing them against their will during his more than 25 years in Congress.

If the Senate concludes that Packwood violated standards of conduct, he could face expulsion, a censure resolution condemning his behavior or a mild rebuke. But short of expulsion, the most damaging punishment - if carried out - could be a recommendation to Republicans that Packwood be removed from his chairmanship.

In addition to the sexual harassment allegations, the ethics panel also is looking into whether Packwood or his staff intimidated potential witnesses to keep them quiet; whether Packwood had a role in lobbyists and businesses making job offers to his former wife when her income would have helped determine his alimony payments; and whether he obstructed the probe by altering his diaries when he became aware the committee would subpoena them.