Bob Packwood was a socially progressive Republican who advocated for women’s equality. He championed issues such as abortion rights and family leave. He hired women to run his campaigns, promoted them to positions of power and supported their careers. Feminists loved him.
But there was another portrait of the former U.S. senator from Oregon — one that he, himself, revealed in his own words, written on thousands of pages of documents.
In his personal diaries, Packwood described women in objectifying terms.
An intern was a “cute little blonde thing.”
Another was “a very sexy woman” whose breasts stood “at attention” and had the “ability to shift her hips.” She and Packwood drank wine together and had sex on the rug of his Senate office, he wrote.
And she wasn’t the only one; Packwood wrote that there were “22 staff members I’d made love to and probably 75 others I’ve had a passionate relationship with.”
Before Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) — who both announced their departures this week amid multiple sexual harassment allegations — there was Bob Packwood, an ambitious senator who eyed the presidency, then found himself resigning in disgrace in 1995.
The allegations, stretched across decades, might seem similar. The times, however, are different. Franken’s problems surfaced amid a wave of sexual harassment claims against powerful men in public life — Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K and dozens of others. The #MeToo movement has given voice to women who once felt powerless after enduring disgusting, sometimes criminal behavior.
Still, Franken struck a defiant tone in his resignation from the Senate floor on Thursday, saying “Some of the allegations against me simply are not true. Others I remember very differently.”
The unraveling of his 26-year career in the Senate began on Nov. 22, 1992, less than three weeks after his narrow reelection victory.
The Washington Post ran a lengthy front-page story that Sunday detailing allegations of misconduct and inappropriate sexual advances against the then-60-year-old senator.
Ten women, many of whom were former staffers, recounted their horror stories to The Post.
Some left their jobs within months of the incidents, disillusioned by the boss they once admired.
The image portrayed in the story was that of a troubled alcoholic who groped female staffers behind closed doors and kissed them forcefully against their will, even as he was championing women’s rights in public.
The allegations, which spanned two decades, were hardly a secret on Capitol Hill’s rumor mill.
Yet, in election after election, Packwood managed to secure another term.
Before Leigh Corfman, Reah Bravo, Leann Tweeden, Julia Wolov, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and dozens of other women who went public with allegations of sexual harassment, there was Julie Williamson, a then-29-year-old legal secretary hired by Packwood after he became a senator in 1969.
She was on the telephone one afternoon, Williamson told The Post, when Packwood, then 36, kissed her on the back of her neck.
“Don’t ever do that again,” she said she told him.
But Packwood followed her into another room, where he grabbed at her clothes, pulled her ponytail and stood on her toes. Williamson said she kept struggling, and Packwood gave up.
She quit her job shortly after.
Years later, in the mid-1970s, there was Jean McMahon.
She told The Post in 1992 that she approached Packwood’s office about a job and later found herself meeting with the senator in his motel room, once during a visit in Salem, Ore., and again on the state’s coast.
On both occasions, McMahon met with Packwood to talk about a speech she was drafting for him. But during the second meeting, Packwood had other things in mind, McMahon said.
“I remember being chased around the table and being grabbed and kissed once,” she told The Post.
There was also Paige Wagers, a then-21-year-old college graduate who worked as a mail clerk in Packwood’s office in Washington in 1976.
Packwood called her into his office one day and told her how much he liked her looks, she said. He ran his fingers through her hair and kissed her on the lips.
Years later, in 1981, Wagers ran into Packwood in one of the Capitol’s underground passageways, The Post reported. They talked, with Packwood seeming to take interest in her new job at the Labor Department. He then opened a door that led to an unmarked office. There, Packwood kissed her again, she said.
“You don’t feel like you’re going to be taken seriously,” she told The Post in 1992. “You are going to be given opportunities only because you’re cute.”
In 1980, there was Gena Hutton, a then-35-year-old divorced mother of two. Packwood, who was running for reelection, invited Hutton, his campaign chairwoman for Lane County, Ore., for dinner at his motel. The meeting was for Packwood to get to know his campaign chairwoman, Hutton told the New York Times in 1993. At the end of the night, Packwood offered to walk her to her car.
“As I started to put the key in the car door, he just reeled me around and grabbed me and pulled me close to him,” Hutton said.
What she first thought was a good-night hug turned out to be a full French kiss.
The allegations stretched into the 1990s. Packwood initially denied them, at times saying he didn’t remember the women, or that he couldn’t find anyone on his staff who knew them. He was not the type to make such advances, he also said.
“I am so hesitant of anything at all that I just, I don’t make any approaches,” he told The Post in 1992, nearly a month before the story was published. “It is simply not my nature, with men or women, to be forward.”
He also sent The Post statements suggesting that some of the women either invited the advances or were lying. The statements contained purported details about the women’s sexual histories and personal lives that might embarrass them and cast doubt on their credibility.
Later, he offered an apology:
“If any of my comments or actions have indeed been unwelcome or if I have conducted myself in any way that has caused any individual discomfort or embarrassment, for that I am sincerely sorry. My intentions were never to pressure, to offend, nor to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and I truly regret if that has occurred with anyone either on or off my staff.”
Soon, more women came forward.
Packwood’s feminist allies were outraged and felt betrayed. A Senate Ethics Committee investigation dragged on for two years, leaving the rest of the country to watch a senator’s painfully slow and highly public fall from grace.
In July 1993, the Senate Ethics Committee sent letters to at least 200 women who worked for Packwood in the Senate since his first election in 1969. The letters were signed by Sens. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the committee’s chairman and vice chairman, respectively.
“The committee is interested in any information that you may have regarding Sen. Packwood’s conduct, whether that information tends to substantiate allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct, or to refute them,” the committee wrote.
The probe grew wider, with the committee issuing a subpoena for Packwood’s personal diaries.
Packwood, who had sought treatment for alcohol abuse, was defiant, saying entries in his diaries contained thousands of pages of sensitive information, including details about the sex lives of other members of Congress.
The fight to make the diaries public became a drawn-out drama — and a pivotal one at that: The diaries — Packwood’s own words — were the strongest evidence against him.
On Nov. 3, 1993, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve the subpoena, dismissing efforts from Packwood and other Republicans to limit its scope.
On Sept. 7, 1995, after much legal wrangling, the committee released 10,145 pages of documents that came in 10 green-bound volumes. By then, Packwood was on the brink of expulsion from the Senate.
The pages told the self-authored story of a man who forced himself on women on at least 18 occasions and hustled favors from lobbyists, The Post reported. More disturbing was that he also removed or altered some potentially incriminating words in the diaries.
Hours after the diaries were made public, Packwood resigned. Tearing up, he delivered his career eulogy to a quiet Senate chamber.
“I think many of you are aware of why I’m here today,” he said. “I am aware of the dishonor that has befallen me in the last three years. And I don’t want to visit further that dishonor on the Senate. It is my duty to resign. It is the honorable thing to do for this country, for the Senate.
“So I now announce that I will resign from the Senate. And I leave this institution, not with malice, but with love.”
Packwood’s ex-wife, Georgie, said her husband’s womanizing wasn’t news to her.
She’d heard the rumors, but her husband denied being unfaithful, she told the New York Times in 1993.
Still, their marriage crumbled. He drunkenly belittled her at parties, she said. She spent hours in bed, depressed.
During a visit to a marriage counselor’s office, he made clear what his priorities were.
“I don’t want any responsibility,” she recalled her ex-husband saying. “I don’t want a wife. I don’t want a home. I only want to be a senator. That’s all there is for me.”
Packwood, now 85, may have lost the political status he worked for and cherished, but he was never completely banished from politics.
He became a well-paid lobbyist who occasionally advised lawmakers on tax and budget issues.
In 2015, the Senate Finance Committee that he had once chaired called him to Capitol Hill to talk about his role in overhauling the tax code in 1986.
Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) called Packwood a “great former leader” during his introduction that only subtly hinted at the former senator’s comeuppance.
“I believe in redemption,” Hatch said. “I believe that you don’t judge people for mistakes in the past, you judge them for what they are doing today and frankly he did a terrific job of working on tax reform.”
Packwood would agree, having told Politico the previous year: “I find people in the political arena are very understanding and forgiving.”