Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) said yesterday he will request and cooperate in an ethics committee investigation of his treatment of female staff members and lobbyists who said he made unwanted sexual advances toward them. He also said he will seek counseling for what he described as his "problems" with alcohol.
Packwood's decision, issued in a statement by his Oregon office, was made after a half-dozen women's rights groups urged a Senate ethics probe of his conduct. Yesterday in Los Angeles, Gloria Allred, president of the Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, said she had written to the Select Committee on Ethics and asked for a "full, fair and prompt inquiry into this scandal."
Allred's group also called for an ethics probe of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who has been accused of sexual assault by the woman who cuts his hair and of sexual misconduct by several other women. Inouye has denied the accounts.
In his statement, Packwood said, "I never consciously intended to offend any women. I, therefore, offer my deepest apologies to all those involved and to the people of Oregon. If I take the proper steps I hope my past conduct is not unforgivable. To that end, I intend:
"1. To request, and I will cooperate fully with, a Senate ethics committee investigation of this matter.
"2. Upon reflection, I realize I have problems and will seek professional advice in connection with my use of alcohol.
"3. To take such other steps as may be appropriate."
Betty Roberts, spokeswoman for a coalition of Oregon groups that seeks Packwood's ouster, said the senator's statement "is not adequate."
Roberts, a former state Supreme Court justice and Packwood's Democratic opponent in the 1974 Senate race, called the statement a political tactic. "He is seeking time and he is seeking sympathy," she said. "He faxed this to everybody and didn't hold a press conference where questions could be asked. . . . I have to think that his method of communication and his words are simply tactics."
Packwood spokesman Matt Evans said Packwood was on a holiday trip outside the state and would not be taking telephone calls.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that "since Packwood's earliest days on Capitol Hill, he has made uninvited sexual advances to women who have worked for him or with him, according to former staff members and lobbyists, including 10 women" who gave specific accounts.
In interviews with The Post, Packwood disputed accounts by former staff members that he did not handle alcohol well, losing his temper and becoming forward with women. "I don't think my basic nature changes" with alcohol, Packwood said.
He told Post reporters, "I've not made any sexual harassment moves toward employees or nonemployees -- whether or not we've had drinks or haven't had drinks."
One woman who worked in Packwood's office in 1989 as a college intern recounted a late-night work session in which the senator walked through his office suite and offered his staff drinks from the wine-in-a-box that he kept in the office. The woman, Maura C. Roche, was watching a videotape on abortion rights when Packwood returned to his desk. After the tape ended, Roche said, Packwood pulled out a binder and read several sexually explicit jokes to her.
Packwood's use of alcohol was also mentioned by several other women in their accounts.
Yesterday, Packwood said in his statement, "Whether alcohol was a factor in these incidents, I do not know. In any event, alcohol at best can only be a partial explanation, not an excuse. When I was originally interviewed by The Washington Post, I honestly believed these events had never occurred. I denied them to The Post, to my friends, and to myself."
Evans said the senator is not acknowledging he made any sexual advances against the women and is not admitting that he has a drinking problem.
The standards by which senators are judged by the Senate ethics committee can vary, depending on the nature of the charges and on what standards panel members feel are appropriate. Committee members can exonerate, reprimand or recommend the Senate censure or expel a senator.