A WEEK AGO, when Sen. Bob Packwood was the only one issuing statements about the Senate Ethics Committee subpoena of his private diaries, the genuine and genuinely troubling issue of the invasion of the senator's privacy was more compelling than it is now. This residual worry never completely goes away, even when, as has happened over the years, numerous political figures and others who committed wrongdoing are required by courts or Congress to cough up their private papers. There is always the possibility of abuse. Mr. Packwood played to this anxiety and also let it be known that the committee was demanding not only information about the allegations of sexual harassment filed against him but also details about the sexual indiscretions of another senator, a member of the House leadership and other people whose consensual conduct had nothing to do with the subject under investigation. Today, in our letters space, Mr. Packwood's attorney protests that this was not meant to be a threat. It sure quacked like one.

People understandably wary of government fishing expeditions expressed reluctance to back the committee. By Thursday, however, a statement by committee Chairman Richard Bryan and another by Sen. Packwood put the subpoena in a different light. The committee, it seems, had been perfectly willing to accept copies of diary pages with these other names blacked out, and the senator, in fact, had already submitted this material to the committee. It wasn't just that the diary train, with Sen. Packwood's cooperation, had already left the station, it was almost to Wilmington. And the request in question was a very specific one for material known to contain information relevant to the senator's conduct. What the investigators are seeking, according to Sen. Bryan, are documents already seen by committee counsel that may involve misconduct by Sen. Packwood -- including possible criminal law violations -- that is unrelated to the harassment charges. Sen. Packwood's argument that he should be allowed to keep from the committee documents of this nature because they may not be relevant to the specific charges of sexual harassment would make a complete investigation of his alleged ethical lapses impossible.

The committee has continued to refuse to divulge specific information about the material it seeks. But even without that, it is clear that Sen. Packwood's primary concern in resisting the subpoena is not to protect the privacy of others, but to prevent the broadening of the inquiry. He, himself, revealed the existence of the diary and offered material in it that he thought would be helpful to his case. The committee has not only the statutory and constitutional power to demand the material it seeks, it also has the obligation to carry out its mandate to review ethical matters, even those unanticipated at the start of the investigation. The Ethics Committee deserves the support of the full Senate when it votes on the subpoena tomorrow.